Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Strategic Interdisciplinary Relations between a Natural Science Community and a Psychology Community Part 2: Change versus Circumvention

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Strategic Interdisciplinary Relations between a Natural Science Community and a Psychology Community Part 2: Change versus Circumvention

Article excerpt


The discipline of psychology provides the vast ambient culture with a scientific pursuit of its mystical assumptions about human beings and their behavior. The postulates that serve as the foundation for traditional psychology, like the postulates that inform the work in any discipline, are largely immune to the change effects of scientific evidence. Behavior analysts seek the resources of the psychology establishment, while psychologists, in general, seek to associate with the powerful image of natural science. Many natural scientists would prefer to see psychologists adhere more closely to the postulates of naturalism. However, under neither side's motive--nor any motive--can evidence change the fundamental nature of the other intellectual faction, because the postulates to be changed function as the principles by which the adduced evidence is interpreted in the first place. An integral natural science discipline focused on behavior is possible only if the behavioral community organizes effectively for its development and maintenance, but current arrangements ignore the lessons of history and do not serve that outcome. Students in behavior analysis are entitled to a more accurate revelation of what they confront in the struggle to induce change in psychology and a more substantial defense, if that is possible, of the proposition that they devote their lives to the pursuit of that quest at the expense of the integrity of their own discipline.


Biological evolution always produces minimal solutions to problems, and they are always structural in nature. In that slow selectional process, new physiological structures are produced only as transmogrifications of old ones. Those changes in physiological structure yield the extensions of behavioral capacity that inhere in the new structures. Studies in structural biology, whether focused on the macro-level of organisms or the micro-level of physiology, have a reductionist character insofar as most biological structure is to be understood in terms of its history of simpler or more primitive precursors. An encountered biological phenomenon of apparent complexity is typically to be understood through its analytical reduction to the combination of simpler structures and processes from which the more complex events of current interest were derived biologically through evolutionary processes.

Natural scientists of behavior, operating at their own level of consideration, study the complexity of behavior processes through a similar reductionist approach. Exhibited behavior, in spite of its often seeming complexity, similarly manifests through a limited number of basic behavioral processes that remains conceptually resistant to expansion (although, rarely, that does happen) . Natural scientists of behavior typically approach the investigation of a new, seemingly complex and at first mysterious behavioral phenomenon by looking for the more elemental or basic and perhaps primitive behavior processes that may in some way be combining to produce the new behavioral manifestation of interest.

A typical example pertains to adjunctive behavior (Falk, 1961, 1971, 1981, 1984, 1986, 1993, 1995; Falk & Tang, 1988; Staddon, 1977). Adjunctive behavior was originally seen as a strange phenomenon that to some investigators implied new underlying behavioral processes, but which has been shown, to the satisfaction of many, to be explicable in terms of elemental and well understood basic processes (Fraley, 2001, Chap. 16). Natural scientists are under contingencies to keep things simple, and in the natural sciences professional status accrues to those who can reduce initial complexity to combinations of simpler processes with minimal recourse to newly proposed basic concepts. The set of concepts evoked in the construction of a valid explanation exhibit a one-to-one correspondence with the features of the event under investigation, but an excessively elaborate conceptual repertoire can result in the attribution of fictitious features to the phenomenon of analytical concern. …

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