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The experimental analysis of behavior: what it is and what it proposes

The experimental analysis of behavior: what it is and what it proposes

December 3, 2022

We are active and dynamic beings. We are continuously carrying out some kind of behavior or behavior, usually with some kind of objective or intention. Realizing this is relatively simple. But it is not so much to determine the how and why we behave as we do, the bases that are behind the behavior.

In this sense and from within the branch of psychology different proposals, models and techniques have emerged throughout history to try to determine it. One of them is the experimental analysis of behavior , which we are going to talk about in this article.

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Experimental analysis of behavior: what is it?

It is understood by experimental analysis of behavior or behavior to that system or paradigm both theoretical and methodological study and analyze the processes through which you end up generating behavior through an experimental methodology, operable and qualitative.

This system considers behavior or behavior as a product of the interaction between natural selection, the reinforcement of previous behaviors and interaction with the social environment.

The experimental analysis of behavior appears as such from the works of BF Skinner, and is based largely on the radical behaviorism that it advocates: behavior is the only object of study of psychology to be the only thing that is directly observable. This author especially highlights the importance of the consequences when explaining the behavior and its modification (being also the origin of operant conditioning). It is intended to explain human and / or animal behavior based on observable and measurable relationships between stimuli and responses .

Technically, the experimental analysis of behavior would be one of the three disciplines that would be included within the behavioral analysis, being in this case the one that is focused on investigating the basic processes. In addition to it, we could also find conceptual analysis (for theoretical aspects) and applied behavioral analysis (which considers how to reflect and use the knowledge obtained in practice).

It is important to keep in mind that this model would be initiated by Skinner, but many other authors would make subsequent modifications and additions. Among them are the investigations carried out with children by Bijou or Wolf, which focused on observing the sensitivity to the consequences of the behavior of minors in different situations with different conditions.

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The behavior in this conceptual system

With regard to the consideration of behavior by the experimental analysis of behavior, according to this model is the result of the interaction of biological and environmental variables that allow the generation of associations between stimuli, responses and consequences. The human being or the animal in question would be an entity classified as a black box, something unexplorable and whose internal elements do not have to be the mechanisms that initiate behavior .

One of the main characteristics of the experimental analysis of behavior is that it considers that the behavior as a whole is not arbitrary but is subject to natural scientific laws, in which it is related to a dependent variable (behavior) with an independent one (its causes), in such a way that said laws allow the behavior to be predicted and modified based on them.

The basis of our behavior are, according to the model from which the experimental analysis of behavior starts, the consequences and effects that these have on the organism that emits them . It is considered that the behaviors that generate pleasant consequences are reinforced in such a way that they are maintained and perpetuated, while the aversive consequences will cause that initially maladaptive behavior tends to disappear.

Likewise, with regard to the participation of the environment, it is worth noting that it is possible to find the existence of phylogenetic, ontogenetic and cultural contingencies that affect the initiation and commission of behavior. The environment affects therefore participating based on how we have evolved and the context in which we are, the reinforcement that our behavior has received throughout our lives and the situation in which we are immersed at a sociocultural level.

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Private events

The experimental analysis of behavior starts from a model that does not include the mind or cognition in the explanation of behavior, but despite this accepts the existence of private behavior or only observable by the subject who lives.

In this sense private verbal conduct existence is accepted , biased perceptions based on conditioning and the presence of situations in which the organism itself is the origin of the stimulation that generates the behavior.

Critics to the model

The experimental analysis of behavior is a system that has had great influence and impact in the field of psychology, but that although it is still useful in different areas has also received various criticisms.

Taking into account that the experimental analysis of behavior proposes that behavior is governed by a series of inalterable laws and that discards or does not value the implication of non-evaluable aspects such as motivation, goals and desires, this model offers a mechanistic view of the behavior, being one of the reasons why at the time it was controversial and for which he has been receiving different criticisms.

Another possible criticism to be taken into account is that many investigations carried out in the experimental analysis of behavior have been carried out with different animal species, so that the conclusions drawn are not always generalizable. However, the model takes this fact into account and is cautious when generalizing its conclusions among different species (although many of its basic principles have been reflected both in the human being and in other beings).

Likewise, the existence of internal factors of the subject as possible causal factors of the behavior is not taken into account, this being mainly passive under the paradigm from which it is based. But nevertheless this does not imply that the existence of private events is not taken into account , something that little by little would end up leading to the emergence of cognitivism.

Bibliographic references:

  • Ardila, R. (1999). The Experimental Analysis of Behavior: Basic concepts and perspectives. Bogotá: Foundation for the Advancement of Psychology
  • Gómez, J. (s.f.) What is the experimental analysis of behavior? Available at: //
  • Pulido, M.A. and Calzada, J.L. (2010). The Experimental Analysis of Behavior: Some experimental models of interest to the neurosciences. Revista Mexicana de Neurociencia: 11 (4).

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