Response Classes: What Are They, Where Do They Come From, and Where Do They Go?

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Operant response classes are customarily defined in terms of the function of the responses. The function is the effect on the environment which constitutes the contingencies of reinforcement that in turn affect the probability of emission of operant behavior. The subject is sometimes said to “select randomly” among members of the response class. This presupposes that responses have some form of existence prior to selection. Because individual responses are emitted one at a time and are not repeated, one may ask where and when the response class actually exists before and after emission of responses from the class. The purpose of the presentation is to ask such questions, without providing any ready answers, to stimulate discourse about basic terminology in the area of behavior analysis. Regarding the issue of random selection, illustrative data from experiments on the effects of individual reinforcers and on operant behavior in extinction demonstrate that, at least under those circumstances, response changes show distinct temporal patterns that are not compatible with the notion that responses are emitted randomly. Behavior analysts should use terminology that is consistent with customary laboratory practices. Responses are captured as they are emitted, stored, and later presented for analysis. Such post hoc displays of responses constitute the empirical, obtained response classes and serve as the dependent variable. However, a conflict of sorts exist regarding terminology when response classes are defined as contingencies of reinforcement (i. e., as independent variables) when in actual practice behavior analysts present response classes as dependent variables.

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European Journal of Behavior Analysis





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