What does amoral behavior mean

What is behavior analysis?

A basic science

Behavioral analysis is a science that studies human behavior, what people say or do, and how animals behave. Behavioral analysis tries to understand, explain, describe and predict this behavior.

Behavioral analysis is fundamentally different from most psychological theories. Psychological theories deal with the “mind”, the “personality”, “cognitive structures”, the “self-concept”; or the "instincts". In doing so, you meet the layperson's understanding of what psychology should be. Unfortunately, none of these concepts exist in the real world, which is also dealt with in the natural sciences, for example. They do not belong in the same physical world in which atoms and living cells exist. Where and how they exist is unclear, perhaps in a “mental” or “hypothetical” world.

Behavioral analysis is not concerned with such unreal explanations for behavior. Behavioral analysis regards the behavior itself as what is actually interesting. Understanding, explaining, describing, and predicting behavior does not require referring to subjective and unscientific concepts. Behavior is understood to mean everything that someone does: So the way a person thinks or feels is also behavior, not just what other people can observe in him.

"Selectivism not purposism"

The scientific principle of behavior analysis is selectionism - the same principle that is at the core of the theory of evolution (according to Darwin). Behavior does not occur “to produce a certain result” - even if we imprecisely say “the child is crying to attract attention”. Rather, the individual's environment holds ready consequences for a certain behavior, which means that this behavior will occur more frequently in the future under similar circumstances.

The main concern of behavior analysis is not reflexes. Even if this is implied by the term “stimulus-response theories”: that a certain behavior is generated by a certain environmental stimulus (such as knocking the knee, which the doctor causes with the reflex hammer or closing the eye during the blink reflex) rather uninteresting for behavior analysts. The so-called operant behavior is much more exciting: This is behavior that is primarily determined by the consequences that follow it. The reflex behavior (like wincing after a loud bang) is little affected by the consequences that follow it. Occasionally, the behavior analysis is assumed to want to degrade people to automatons and claim that all behavior is basically reflexive. The opposite is the case. Behavior analysis is primarily concerned with operant behavior (which psychologists often equate with “voluntary” behavior - for behavior analysis, on the other hand, the pre-scientific distinction between voluntary and unwilling behavior does not play a major role).

The science of the functional relationships between environmental events and behavior

The behavior analysis describes functional relationships. The statement “If he made jokes, people laughed” describes a functional connection between behavior (telling jokes) and an environmental event (others laugh). For example, we can now observe that the person in question tells jokes more often (and that he tells less jokes when no one is laughing). Telling jokes is a function of laughter. From this and many other observations, behavioral analysts abstract the concept of reinforcement.

Explanations that do not represent a functional context are not explanations in the true sense of the word. Saying that someone is behaving helplessly because they have a "dependent personality" does not explain anything. The label “dependent personality” may result from that person's responses to a questionnaire. For example, she could often agree with statements like "I would rather let others make the decision". While it is sometimes useful to know such labels, they do not explain anything. We cannot say that someone is behaving helplessly because they are a dependent personality and then claim that we explained the behavior.

Differentiation from other natural sciences

Genetics, brain chemistry, physiology, and other factors certainly play a role in understanding behavior. Behavioral analysts assume that certain functional relationships between behavior and the environment of an individual are specific to that individual or to the species to which it belongs - because of the genetic makeup of that individual. The laws of behavior do not deny genetics, they exist because genetics exist (or because they were written into the genome of this species in the course of species development). The dispute between hereditary theorists and environmental theorists is meaningless: Nature “selected” those individuals for survival who inherited certain laws of their behavior, just as the environment “selects” certain behavior of the individual so that it occurs more frequently in the future. Brain chemistry and physiology are also of interest - but not really for the behavioral analyst. Contrary to most psychological theories, the laws of behavior do not have to wait for future confirmation from brain research. Fortunately, behavior analysis can work out valid functional relationships between behavior and the environment without knowing the structure and chemistry of the brain. Likewise, chemistry existed as a functioning science long before quantum mechanics, even if, thanks to quantum theory, we now better understand how the chemical processes take place in detail.

The control of behavior

An important term in behavior analysis is "control". It is said that the environment controls behavior in a certain way. Nevertheless, people do not behave like puppets of their environment. Even if physicists know all the essential laws of mechanics, engineers cannot predict when an airplane will crash. Even if our entire behavior is theoretically determined (predetermined), the complexity of reality prevents full prediction or control of behavior. In addition, control is only a paraphrase for functional relationships. In the language of behavior analysis, the fact that we adapt to the outside temperature in our clothing can be described as a control of our dressing behavior through the room temperature. A thousand other things similarly control all of our behavior.

A science

Some people refuse to try to describe, explain and predict human behavior at all, because that would disenchant the world. But with every puzzle that is solved, you discover ten new ones. The more we understand, the more we recognize what we still need to understand. Ignorance is neither romantic nor exciting. Ultimately, reality is not an item on which we can vote by feeling: behavior analysts do not invent the laws of behavior, they just discover them. Nobody would assume that there would be no gravity if Newton had not explained it scientifically. Yet many people behave as if the behavioral scientists were responsible for the laws of behavior in this way.

* based on a text by Howard Sloane at http://www.behavior.org

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