BehaviorDoes Not Mean "Behavior of the Organism": Why Conceptual Revision is Needed in Behavior Analysis

Vicki L. Lee


This paper considers two different meanings of the word behavior and the implications of these meanings for how we talk about behavior. The paper argues that discussions about social justice issues would be more effective if these implications were fully grasped. The paper begins by discussing the etymologically-original meaning of behavior, which equates the word with conduct. A second meaning of behavior, introduced when early psychologists attempted to make usage of behavior in psychology consistent with its usage in other sciences, is then discussed. The paper shows that behavior analysts tacitly accept this second meaning when they theorize about operant data. Acceptance is illustrated by discussing the traditional emphasis on body movements ahead of effects and the concept of operant behavior. The paper then reiterates Skinner's emphasis on the central place of data in developing a conceptual framework. It argues that operant data represent changes in the state of various objects that depend on an object and on a participant, among other constituents, which is consistent with the implications of the etymologically-original meaning of behavior. The paper concludes that reformulating behavior analysis to make its theoretical claims consistent with the etymologically-original meaning of behavior would make discussions about social justice issues considerably more widely accessible.

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Published by the University of Illinois at Chicago Library

And Behaviorists for Social Responsibility