Some Thoughts on the Relation between Behavior Analysis and Behavioral Neuroscience

Article excerpt

A comprehensive science of behavior is presumably concerned with two interrelated questions:

1. How is an organism's behavior functionally related to its environment?

2. How do the organism's neural and hormonal systems mediate those functional relations?

Behavior analysis deals with the first question and the relation between environmental circumstances and organism called behavior. These relations exist at phylogenic, ontogenic, and cultural levels (Catania & Harnad, 1988). Selection by consequences is the significant causal mode at these three levels, and there are parallels across the three levels regarding (a) the unit that is selected and (b) the consequence that does the selecting.

However, the second question differs from the first, and consequently a science that differs from behavior analysis is needed to deal with it (Donahoe, 1996; Reese, 1996). Behavioral neuroscience is just that different science. It is concerned with the operating characteristics of the underlying neural and hormonal systems (a) within a behavioral event, and (b) between one behavioral event and the next. For example, within a behavioral event, we might be interested in the neural and hormonal continuity from the time the organism comes into contact with an antecedent stimulus through the time the response occurs. Alternatively, between behavioral events, we might be interested in the neural and hormonal continuity from one experience to the effects of that experience as measured in the future. In this regard, readers may note that Skinner (1974, p. 221) has suggested that a behavior-analytic account has two "unavoidable gaps," and that a different science is needed to "make the picture of human action more ne arly complete" (see also Catania & Harnad, 1988, p. 470). We shall discuss some implications of Skinner's statements later in the present article, but for the moment, let us emphasize that events providing the neural and hormonal continuity spoken of above are not stimuli in the behavioral sense. If the events are construed as stimuli, the analysis remains at the behavioral level. Neural and hormonal factors are not stimuli in the behavioral sense, so the analysis that is being proposed here is not to study neural or hormonal factors and call them stimuli, or to say the science studies private stimuli. The subject matter identified by the second question is not behavioral stimulation in any sense, and it requires a categorically different science to address it.

Contributions of Behavioral Neuroscience to Causal Explanations of Behavioral Events

Given the distinction above between the two sciences, we can summarize the information that neuroscience provides in the following way:

1. How neural and hormonal systems provide continuity between stimulus and response within a behavioral event,

2. How neural and hormonal systems are changed by experience,

3. How neural and hormonal systems store those changes from one behavioral event to the next,

4. How a changed organism behaves differently in the future,

5. How the internal biochemical context modulates stimulating action of the environment.

This same set of contributions holds true for allied disciplines, such as behavioral pharmacology and behavioral toxicology, which study the effects of various substances on an organism's physiological and behavioral systems. The substances examined in such disciplines change the organism, by selectively affecting (a) sensory systems mediating input/responsiveness to environmental stimulation or (b) motor systems mediating output or (c) links between sensory and motor systems. Nevertheless, the information provided in the allied disciplines remains the same.

Genetics. Selection by Consequences, and Behavior

Innate Behavior, Sensitivity to Contingencies, and Selection By Consequences

Let us develop this point of view a bit further, by considering the contribution of genetics to a science of behavior. …