In his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner (1971) reminds us that “culture is the social environment that shapes and maintains the behavior of those who live in it. A given culture evolves as new practices arise, possibly for irrelevant reasons, and are selected by their contribution to the strength of the culture as it “competes” with the physical environment and with other cultures.”
Now, we (Steve Ward and I) mention the term culture because there are words in our culture that have strong connotations and evoke conditioned emotional responses, bias, and bias confirmation as people tend to unknowingly search out data and surround themselves with other people who reinforce their bias. Words that are common yet evoke strong emotional responses from those both outside and inside of our field like:
• Positive, negative, consequence, manipulate, control, and punishment
• Assent, trauma-informed, and compassion
In other sciences, this may not be an issue. But when you begin talking about behavior and using any one or combination of the words above, people, including behavior analysts, are going to fall back on their extensive learning history, which may or may not be directly related to the science of human behavior. Those newer to the field may have a stronger emotional response than veterans who have, over time, been conditioned to respond differently. Still, many responses, in both cases, might fall into a classification of behaviors that might be considered rule-governed behavior. And while rule-governed behavior may serve a general set of circumstances that meet our personal and shared values, it can also lack nuanced and functional sophistication to produce socially valid outcomes for those we serve.
When we exceedingly follow rules, we sacrifice empiricism. We become less likely to recognize when an intervention is not working. This, of course, preempts analysis. There is no impetus for problem-solving if a problem is not identified. We can’t begin to analyze why an intervention is not working if we don’t realize that it is not working.
In the episode, Steve Ward, Kayla Perry, and Dr. Merrill Winston take a deep dive into the concepts of assent, trauma-informed care, and compassion; moreover, they illuminate current challenges within the field of behavior analysis as they relate to the exceedingly broad use of terms like these that lack nuance and seemingly promote rule-governance.
Article by Steve and Paulie referenced in the podcast
Whole Child Consulting
Winston Behavioral Solutions
Trauma Informed? Or Trauma Misinformed? A Behavioral Analysis of Trauma Disorders and Treatment
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