When a Behavior Analyst Attends a General Psychological Conference


By Tom Buqo of Brohavior

bSci21 Contributing Group

When faced with a choice between attending the 2015 Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) conference, or the Association for Psychological Science (APS) conference, I chose to attend APS. I wanted to attend a general psychological conference to contact different world views and philosophical assumptions about the science that may challenge my own. My interest in behavior has often fallen within the realms of clinical and social psychological phenomena while my philosophical stance on the science of behavior aligns with behaviorism. I am often the odd one out at any given conference. This could be due to the premature obituaries regarding behaviorism within psychology and behavior analysts’ relatively limited interaction with other branches of psychology. 

While at APS, I attended talks related to my interests, though not necessarily in line with my philosophy. This, of course, led to long discussions with others about these talks, their theoretical assumptions, and our own assumptions regarding these talks. In the end, I observed three things.

1) Mainstream psychology has not forgotten Skinner. While some mainstream psychologists may have stated a disregard or disapproval of behavioral ideas, others still quote Skinner in their discussions.  To say that the views regarding Skinner are mixed to this day would be an understatement. However, Skinner’s impact is still acknowledged.

2) Findings are coming out in line with behavioral assumptions. While there, I saw null findings showing mentalistic constructs were not predicting behavior. I saw such constructs compared, conflated, and just generally confused. Yet at the end of the day, multiple findings were in line with behavior analysis, particularly that behavior is maintained or decreased by contact with previous consequences and not directly caused by internal, subjective states.

3) Other research is not as incompatible with behaviorism as it seems. While the presentations were not framed in behavioral terms, behaviorism as a philosophy underlies how I view and interpret the world. Seeing these talks, I was able to frame these with my assumptions and then to discuss, defend, and examine my assumptions in my conversations with others.

So, while I missed ABAI this year, I was thankful to attend a more general conference. While I heard things that I disagreed with, it helped me grow in my philosophy of a science.  A philosophy of science is based on assumptions, and speaking to those with different assumptions and different world views provided an opportunity to state and defend these underlying assumptions that you may not have truly examined!

While I look forward to the next time I am able to attend ABAI, I will be excited for future opportunities to attend conferences with topical, as opposed to philosophical, agreement. While there are many different perspectives within behavior analysis, the opportunity to contact assumptions so radically different than your own allows you to truly understand the language you use to talk about the world and how this impacts your application of your science.

Let us know your experiences in attending conferences outside of behavior analysis in the comments below!  Also consider subscribing to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles, and free monthly issues, directly to your inbox!

About Brohavior:


Following graduation from Master’s programs many behavior analysts find themselves in a cold dark world where they are searching for the light of peers that share their approach to the subject matter of behavior. One online group called  Brohavior (derived from “brotherhood”) has recently created a refuge for behavior analysts looking for the light in order to continue their own development. The group aims to create a collaborative environment where students of behavior analysis are exposed to and pursue behavior analytic literature, philosophy and research that is outside of the scope of the BACB-approved course sequence.

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  1. Nice tour report. A follow up comparing and constrasting foundational philosophical assumptions and attitudes would be very cool

  2. I would be very interested in knowing which presentations at APS support behavior analysis. I have located no behavior analysis posters or presentations in the 10 years I have attended this convention. So why do I go, you ask. The bulk of ABAI is autism-related work. It would be good for behavior analysts to impact APS, but it will be difficult as they are not open to our research methodology, or so it seems.

  3. I agree with your assessment 100%. It is not too hard to find interesting things in the world, as long as one doesn’t go out into it with guns blazing as an introduction. Back when I was a graduate student and had disposable income, I made it a point to attend one new (not previously attended) “mainstream” or non-behavioral specialty conference a year. Not only did I learn tons and gain a helpful dose of humility, but I made connections that were useful later and occasionally heard awesome stories (like that of the seminal behavior therapist who thought that another seminal behavior therapist had taken credit for all of his/her ideas) that I’d have never heard at ABAI. My advice to all: Treat ABAI and related meetings the way truly recreational drug users treat their substance of choice: Have fun with it, but don’t get too addicted.

  4. I agree with you – there is SO much value in hearing about how other branches of psychology align (or don’t!) with behavior analysis. I sometimes feel like a spy – listening in on how non-behavior analysts talk about the same concepts! In terms of disseminating our science for the good of society (Skinner’s original intent), learning more and more about how other fields view the information and the vocabulary with which they discuss it can only help behavior analysts continue to share the science! Great article – thanks for writing!!

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