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Jessica Krueger's picture

Focusing the lens to find meaning.

A brief perusal of the topics posted thus far lead me back to two concepts I have mulled over on my own for quite some time: predictability and “reason.”

The field of research I would like to enter (which I consequently invest with a great deal of respect), behavior analysis would argue that one of the basic tenants of the behavior of an organism is that it be predictable., This doesn’t mean that we as humans are good at predicting behavior or even articulating it when we were successful at predicting behavior. The idea is that it’s not something or someone inside the head which drives behavior (and I know this idea won’t be popular in this class) but rather that certain aspects of the environment either support or deter certain behaviors. While it’s easy to point at a single immediate scenario and argue that there’s “no way” that anyone could predict a female cricket’s “random” taxis away from a male, we proved in class that if you move the focus away from the imminent sexual pairing to the wider environment of a field, the potential presence of a predator, food source or superior mate can explain her seemingly aberrant behavior. But the scale of analysis need not be limited to the immediate context; a subject’s ontogenetic and phylogenetic history can come into play when trying to explain why certain behaviors are maintained and others extinguished. So whether or not a behavior is “predictable” is less of function of whether or not predictability is an intrinsic characteristic of the behavior itself and more a function of whether or not a certain aspect of the environment has a strong enough influence on the behavior itself (called “stimulus control”) such that it can be detected by the person describing the behavior as predictable.

Following along that line of discussion, the reasonability of a behavior is thought to be determined by an observer’s description of a behavior than a specific aspect of that behavior. Much as the collection of gases over our heads is a “sky” only within our brains, attributes such as “intentional” or “reasonable” have more to do with how the observer describes a behavior. As Professor Paul Neuman says in his paper on intentionality(1), we wouldn’t describe a player dropping the ball during the Superbowl this evening as an intended behavior, but if his hand had just moved a few inches in the correct direction we would say that that catching behavior was intended. Intention doesn’t explain why the behavior occurred in the first place, and thus to a behavior analyst who is interested in understanding the cause of behavior reason and intention are particularly useful distinctions. So instead of describing a behavior as reasonable or predictable, perhaps we should investigate what it is about the behavior that leads us to describing it as reasonable or predictable.

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