5 minute read

The Experimental Analysis

of Human Behavior The wide range of performances through which a man may deal with his physical and social environment is one of the major aspects of human biology. This is the traditional area of psychology in which answers are sought to questions such as "What does a man do?" or "Why does man act?" The problems are concerned with all of the performances with which a man deals, responds to, and interacts in the physical and social world. The data are such performances as a man's relations with his family, how he goes about his job, his response to questions, or the way in which he solves problems.

During the last century, there has emerged a behavioral science and technology relevant to the behavior of both men and animals that is permitting us to begin to analyze many complex problems in human behavior with the same rigor and objective measurement as has had such powerful effects in man's ability to control the physical and some aspects of the biologic world (Skinner, 1953). The new technology of behavior has the same obvious relevance to clinical psychiatry and psychology as the understanding of the growth, metabolism, and chemistry of microbes has had to internal medicine. It consists of general principles by which the behavior of an organism as it acts and interacts with the environment may be described lawfully as a function of the specific modes of its environmental reactions. In broadest terms, many problems in psychiatry consist of basic questions involving the alteration of the frequency of various performances of a man as he deals with the world - generating new forms of behavior, weakening others, and maintaining some forms of behavior already existing in the repertoire. The reader who is familiar with the important concepts of clinical practice in psychology and psychiatry will notice that many of these terms and concepts have been omitted. The omission of many clinical terms and diagnostic categories, such as needs, desires, wishes, dependencies, psychic impulses and defenses, and ego experiences, is not meant to imply that such terms are not useful in clinical work or that they are not used by clinicians to describe real behavioral situations. The approach in this section of the text, however, is to begin with biologic principles that are well established and to make contact with the clinical problems wherever present knowledge is sufficiently advanced to do so. In very many cases, our knowledge of psychologic processes is not sufficiently advanced to formulate factors which are relevant to important clinical problems. Where we can do so, however, a more general analysis in terms which are susceptible to scientific analysis along the lines of natural science inquiry, which has proved so successful in many areas of biology, will be made. A description of behavior in natural scientific terms will have the following advantages: 1. The data will be observable and measurable in the same terms as all of the rest of the data in biology. 2. The standards of evidence and proof will be scientific rather than philosophical. 3. Any understanding of basic behavioral processes will eventually lead to control of the behavior which in turn will make it possible to actually manipulate the relevant conditions, measure the corresponding changes in behavior, and develop the progressively greater degree of experimental control that has characterized experimental biology.

The purpose of this section is to help the student understand the environmental control of behavior. The focus is on the operant repertoire which is the aspect of human behavior that is in dynamic interchange with the environment. The operant repertoire of the organism, maintained by its effect on the environment and in turn producing changes in and altering the environment, is the basic datum of psychology and psychiatry. On the other hand, conditioned reflexes, the broad physiologic responses, the autonomic nervous system, and activity of the organs are relevant to the present subject matter only to the extent that they are broad parameters which in very general ways influence or disrupt the nature of the environmental control of the organism's behavior. Reflexes and knowledge of the physiologic substrates of behavior will be introduced wherever they help our understanding of the dynamic interaction between operant performance and its effect on the environment. The physiologic substrate underlying every normal behavioral process is, of course, a legitimate and valuable subject of inquiry. However, when we are not concerned with the way in which reflexes and sub-behavioral physiologic mechanisms change an individual's dynamic interaction with the environment, the study of these mechanisms is more appropriate to physiology than psychology. Our purposes here will be to elucidate the nature of the environmental control which will provide a description of the process for which a physiologic substrate may be sought.

In trying to understand why a person acts, and, consequently, in achieving methods for changing his actions, we must look for variables of which his behavior is a function in the sense of a functional analysis in natural science. To the extent that we have answered questions such as "How are new forms of behavior created in a repertoire?" "How are undesirable forms weakened?" "What are the relevant functional relations between the behavior of a man and the effect of his behavior in the environment?" we have elements of a technology for actually controlling the variable and, hence, the behavior. The behavior of an organism is a datum of biology as is any other aspect of a biologic organism, and will be dealt with using the same methods of natural science that have proved so successful in other areas of biology. While many of our common expressions employed in describing behavior use broad inferences and terms which appear very difficult to measure, the behavior of a man, when viewed as his natural activities in the world, consists of extremely identifiable and measurable movements largely of the striated musculature, as well as equally accessible and measurable aspects of the environment which change as a result of his activities or stand as occasions when his activities may have different effects on the environment. However, while we may explain and talk about a man's interactions with his fellow man, ultimately all we can observe are the displacements of his body in space, changes in his physical structure, and the air vibrations he produces as he moves the musculature of his diaphragm and other organs connected with speech in the mouth. These observable phenomena may be measured with the same precision as any other data in the natural sciences.

Additional topics

Human Behavior