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Applied Behavior Analysis and Buddhist Belief

I study ABA, and consider myself to be a radical behaviorist. That is, I believe that everything that comprises a personality or person-hood is in fact the result of operant and respondent conditioning. Put simply, I believe that "we" are our behaviors, period. I feel like the principles of behavior have helped me come to a greater understanding of the purpose and effectiveness of the 8-fold path. Is anyone else here interested in the principles of behavior, or behavioral psychology in general?
MaryAnneriverflowWisdom23zombiegirlcvalue
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Comments

  • CittaCitta Veteran
    Yes. I am very interested in the application of Behaviourism and the limits thereof.
  • ...we're all so steeped in behavior, it's hard not to be fascinated, though absolutes will always be subjective...maybe...LOL. Lay some goodies on us Talisman.
  • I used to be a radical behaviorist- then I had children. I have been a behavior analyst for over 30 years and the while the basis of behaviorism is very sound, it ain't everything.
    "We all need a little love in our life and some food in our belly before we can listen to anyone's sermon on how to behave"
    Billy Holliday
  • wrathfuldeitywrathfuldeity Veteran
    edited August 2013
    No...and not a behaviorist. It does explain some things but imho its limited and based on empiricism...which to in my way of understanding is mostly in conflict with the Buddhist's idea of root cause...ignorance. With the behavioral assumption of pain/pleasure with the SR as the mechanism of change the radical conclusion would lead deeper in to samsara. However I subscribe to the perennial transpersonal psychology...what ever that means?
  • TalismanTalisman Veteran
    edited August 2013
    In my opinion, the terminology and teachings the Buddha used were in response to the teachings and beliefs of his time. It would have been impossible for him to properly instruct others in the path to liberation if, 2500 years ago, he started blathering on about operant behavioral contingencies. Understanding the reasons for why I act the way that I do gives me the ability to intervene upon that behavior, if necessary, and helps me to understand directly how inspection and analysis of phenomena leads to wisdom and skillful action.
    lobsterFrolickertom
  • Now that wisdom and skilful action are in place . . where to? More of the same behaviour? :wave:
  • Skillful behavior IS the path. In my earnest opinion.
    riverflowDandelionFrolickertom
  • Talisman said:

    Skillful behavior IS the path. In my earnest opinion.

    Yes indeed, that is the path. I am asking you we're you going? For example do you feel as some do, behaviour (Sila) is the goal? :wave:
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    edited August 2013
    The discussion has drifted..the OP is about BehaviourISM which would be clearer if the poster had used caps. The set of concepts that suggests that any particular behaviour is a learned response to either positive or negative reinforcement..that we do things or do not do things because we are rewarded for so doing, and that we stop doing things that we are not rewarded for..
    I think human behaviour is very complex..more complex than Behaviourism allows for.
    It doesnt explain what happens when we stand in front of, or listen to , a work of art for example.
    That goes much deeper than simply a pleasurable response, I would contend.
    And it only goes so far in explaining what happens in meditation.
    However Behaviourism is extremely useful as an explanation of a whole layer of simple conditioning that we all carry as a response to our environment and upbringing..
    It is THE treatment of choice for a whole range of phobic and obsessional conditions for example..which seldom respond to any kind of analysis or attempts to uncover trauma and so on.
    Where Behaviourism comes into its own is in the form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy where learned behaviours in the form of self fulfilling negative narratives..endless fearful or unrealistic ruminations are identified and replaced with positive or realistic narratives.
    This approach is highly compatible with Buddhist meditation. In fact it has been modified by Buddhist therapists to emphasise that compatibility even more.
    riverflowAllbuddhaBound
  • misterCopemisterCope PA, USA Veteran
    Citta said:


    I think human behaviour is very complex..more complex than Behaviourism allows for.

    I can't agree with this more. I'm studying to be a teacher and nearly every one of my classes focuses, at least partly, on the major faults found in an education system (in the U.S.) built around the conditioning of students.

    Let's take a basic conditioned response: Write a good paper, get an A, please your teacher and parents. How does Behaviorism explain one student's relentless pursuit of the paper's subject matter long after the grade has come back?

    I think that most people's interest in Buddhism serves as a foil to Behaviorism. How does Behaviorism explain a monk meditating while hungry and tired with no expectation of reward?
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    But......Behavourism does explain many behaviours, their genesis and what sustains them.
    Most of us much of the time really do act out our conditioning in a robotic way.
    Knee-jerk vegans are just as robotic as knee-jerk carnivores.
    Knee-jerk anarchists are just as robotic as knee-jerk lovers of the establishment.
    Where Behavourism reaches its limits is in failing to acknowledge that Human beings are able to transcend that process.
    riverflowpersonFrolickertom
  • misterCopemisterCope PA, USA Veteran
    I agree completely. I'm not saying Behaviorism doesn't explain anything (I still drool when I hear a bell), but I am saying that there are plenty of things that Behaviorism does not explain.

    Elephants mourn their dead.
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    _/\_
  • misterCopemisterCope PA, USA Veteran
    _/\_
  • I disagree. Operant conditioning explains behavior that is governed by the presentation of stimuli following the action and repondent conditioning explains behavior that is governed by the eliciting stimuli with which it has been paired. I think that with complex analysis, absolutely every single thought, verbalization, or action (the 3 definitions of volitional fabrication according to the Buddha) can be explained using the principles of behavior. It doesn't in any way diminish the profundity of human behavior, all it does is explain why that behavior occurs.
  • ToshTosh Veteran
    I think it's all well and good to understand a problem, but I find that self knowledge is really of little use. For example I remember understanding why I was an alcoholic, and I understood the problem at a deep level; this however was never enough to stop me from drinking.

    So my question is, does ABA provide a method for change in the way Buddhism or a 12 Step program works?
  • TalismanTalisman Veteran
    edited August 2013
    Self-performance management systems. We incorporate them a lot to help with diets, study habits, housework, etc.
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    edited August 2013
    @Talisman I incorporate many aspects of Behaviourism in my daily work.
    Both directly in the treatment of phobias, obsessional states, and free floating anxiety states, and indirectly through CBT, which is an invaluable addition to the therapeutic toolbox.
    At one time I would have agreed with you concerning a Behavioural explanation of most or all behaviour.
    No longer.
    There are whole realms of human behaviour which defy any simplistic explanation.
    Because there are whole dimensions beyond the observable.
    As one of my teachers put it we have two stories to our house.
    If we ignore the lower story ( which is where operant conditioning takes place )we limit our understanding...but likewise if we ignore the upper story we end up with a reductionist view of sentient life.
    That which is conditioned is an important component of our being. But there is is an Unborn and Unconditioned which has its own life and its own logic.
  • TalismanTalisman Veteran
    edited August 2013
    The belief in an unconditioned element that precedes and governs human behavior is in contrast to the Buddha's teaching on anatman and not-self.
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    edited August 2013
    Not so.
    'There is Bhikkhus an Unborn, Unmade and Unfabricated. Were there not not then liberation from the born , made, and fabricated would not be possible.' ( Thannisaro renders this more literally as could not be 'discerned.' )

    Nibbana Sutta. Udana V111.

    Reductionist explanations of Dhamma are papanca preceded by a minus sign. Papanca that excludes vital concepts and replaces them with reductionist explanations..

    _/\_
  • That quote does not support your assumption of an unfabricated governing force.
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    It however supports the Buddhas assertion that there is an Unborn,Unmade and Unfabricated and that were there not, liberation from conditioned phenomena would not be possible...which is what he says in that Sutta. I don't believe anyone mentioned 'governing forces ' at all.
    I certainly didn't.
  • Im not here to argue my beliefs with you or to defend what i believe to be true. Im just sharing what I believe with others, and yet again I regret returning to this forum.
    Frolickertom
  • wrathfuldeitywrathfuldeity Veteran
    edited August 2013
    Talisman said:

    Im not here to argue my beliefs with you or to defend what i believe to be true. Im just sharing what I believe with others, and yet again I regret returning to this forum.

    eeh...some of your responses have a defensive or arguing nature for your pov...instead of merely stating it. Actually I thought the discussion was quite educational and had to go and look some things up...it seems there are a few "psychologist" or psychology minded folks here...so thank you for putting it out there.

    misterCope
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    edited August 2013
    Citta said:

    Not so.
    'There is Bhikkhus an Unborn, Unmade and Unfabricated. Were there not not then liberation from the born , made, and fabricated would not be possible.' ( Thannisaro renders this more literally as could not be 'discerned.' )

    Nibbana Sutta. Udana V111.

    Reductionist explanations of Dhamma are papanca preceded by a minus sign. Papanca that excludes vital concepts and replaces them with reductionist explanations..

    _/\_

    The Unborn precedes and governs human behavior? Have you been self medicating again? :p
  • My teacher points out that there is conditioned and unconditioned behaviour. For example if you are a man and walk in the women's restroom (or vice versa) you lose your confidence in the conditional sense and then the unconditioned can cut in. So you might apologize or just run back out. Or your sensations when you suddenly cannot jog anymore whereas previously could do that. There is emotional fallout from such a big change. A lot of monks when they are in a new setting they sort of play and are delighted by the minutia like they are wonderous. I read that lately at least. Wide open like a child. And then like Tosh says there can be enormous conditioning to drink. I had that too and my method was to be compassionate to myself and not be divided. If I was going to drink then god damn it I was going to do it and enjoy. And with the compassion I had the stability of mind to perceive more clearly and each choice was a 'micro decision'. In other words my identification (I me mine) stopped for the drinking. It wasn't I mean or mine. Next I sat with the craving meditatively. Gangaji says "you crucify yourself". But my teacher just said to not be divided. Another example is my psychotic voices. My lama has instructed me that they are just empty voices. I can let them go and let them be rather than try to condition myself out of the voices which I don't see how that is possible.

    So I posit that the mind is always open to new information. It is always like that and that is the unconditioned mind. When we are open to new information it is like our hand opens. This feels good. That is another component of awareness is a well feeling just in the ground of being. Opening feels good. There is always some kind of message or experience that is new to you and there is always the mind set in time that experiences the recognition at which point there is creativity to bubble back a response. That is what I and all of us do when we type.
  • Definately !! I am a huge nerd and love studying random things. if you could suggest any reading or viewing material that would be grand.
  • Talisman said:

    Im not here to argue my beliefs with you or to defend what i believe to be true. Im just sharing what I believe with others, and yet again I regret returning to this forum.

    :)

    Why are you here? Why share and be surprised others share in a different way?
    You seem unable to deal with others behaviour?

    Me too. My behaviour is so, so unreasonable . . .

    [lobster turns on virtual karaoke and puts on 'My Way']
    "Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
    When I bit off more than I could chew
    But through it all, when there was doubt
    I ate it up and spit it out
    I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

    I've loved, I've laughed and cried
    I've had my fill, my share of losing
    And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
    To think I did all that
    And may I say, not in a shy way,
    "Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way"
    Jeffrey
  • I was at work when I posted that, sorry to sound rude and off-putting.
    lobster
  • I don't believe in a mind/soul/element/atman/force or whatever anyone wants to call it. I don't believe that there is an internal, unconditioned, non-fabricated source that drives human behavior. Everything a person does (and thus IS) is conditioned and a product of a complex learning history. This fact does not devalue the nature of behavior, in fact it elevates it from the vague and non-empirical realm of "mind".
    Frolickertom
  • misterCopemisterCope PA, USA Veteran
    @Talisman, would you say that the pursuit of knowledge (curiosity) is conditioned? How would that be so?

    Asking out of genuine interest, not animosity. :)
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    edited August 2013
    Talisman said:

    I don't believe in a mind/soul/element/atman/force or whatever anyone wants to call it. I don't believe that there is an internal, unconditioned, non-fabricated source that drives human behavior. Everything a person does (and thus IS) is conditioned and a product of a complex learning history. This fact does not devalue the nature of behavior, in fact it elevates it from the vague and non-empirical realm of "mind".

    But no one said that.
    The Buddha said ( check it out ) that there is an "Unborn Unmade " etc.
    You have chosen to interpret that as an explanation of what drives human behaviour..in reality the Buddha is saying that the Unborn etc. is OBSCURED by the conditioned. That what drives human behaviour is a lack of awareness of the Unborn.
    He says it repeatedly throughout his words as reported in the Pali Canon.
    Jeffrey
  • TalismanTalisman Veteran
    edited August 2013
    @mistercope

    Curiosity is a label for a group of many different behaviors, all of which have been reinforced in the past by the stimuli that follow those behaviors. For example, a child placing objects in her mouth could lead one to believe that the child is "curious about the object." But the child isn't motivated to place the objects in her mouth because of some internal process, which some might call "curiosity". She puts the object in her mouth because the act of doing so has been reinforced in the past by the introduction of the stimuli of touch and taste. In this way the child's behavior is not governed by any assumed, and unfalsifiable, preceding condition (such as the existence of a curious personality) but instead by the former consequences of that behavior.

    The way that a mentalistic person would explain the behavior would involve circular reasoning.
    "Why does the child put objects in her mouth?"
    "Because she is curious."
    "How do you know she is curious?"
    "Because she puts objects in her mouth."

    This line of reasoning assumes that curious behavior is governed by a "curious personality." Instead, in simplest terms, the behavioral person would say that curiousness is reinforced by discovery. The consequences of "curiosity" are what make someone a "curious person."
  • @citta

    You aren't making any sense to me. I don't believe in anything "driving human behavior."

    And in my opinion, the uncondition/unmade/unborn is in reference to unbinding and nirvana, not to some aspect of human behavior or person-hood.
  • @Talisman may I ask, how did you come to being a behaviorist, how old are you and are you in some graduate studies?

    I know for myself at first somewhat a behaviorist, rationalist, cognitivist, existentialist, Buddhist, eclectic, transpersonalist, perennial tranpersonalist and now just ist. Nothing wrong with the aforementioned
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    Talisman said:

    @citta

    You aren't making any sense to me. I don't believe in anything "driving human behavior."

    And in my opinion, the uncondition/unmade/unborn is in reference to unbinding and nirvana, not to some aspect of human behavior or person-hood.

    It was you @Talisman that first used the term 'driving human behaviour' in this thread.
    I am simply pointing out that no one said that the Unborn ( note the capital, which all translators deploy ) is the driver of human behaviour...rather the reverse.

    But...as we clearly going to continue to talk passed each other and as I am not making any sense to you, I shall wish you well and withdraw from the discussion.

    _/\_
  • TalismanTalisman Veteran
    edited August 2013
    @wrathfuldeity

    I became interested in the amazing work being done with children with autism through application of behavior analysis. I'm an undergrad still, at 26 years old :P I dropped out of college at 20 and it took me 5 years to pay back what I owed to get back into school. Hoping to be done with graduate studies by by 30.
    riverflow
  • ^ well then continue on....
    don't let school get in the way of your education
    riverflow
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    I will pop back to say that I spent three years involved in a specialist unit which served the needs of young people on the autist/aspergers spectrum. Using Behaviourist techniques as the framework for interventions.
    I now work with sufferers from depression and phobic states using many Behavourist derived interventions. Including CBT. I have no doubt of their efficacy.


    I also have no doubt that they describe only part of human functioning.
    riverflow
  • That's okay @citta, you don't have to view things the way I do for me to love you.
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    Ditto. @Talisman

    _/\_

  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    Citta said:

    Talisman said:

    @citta

    You aren't making any sense to me. I don't believe in anything "driving human behavior."

    And in my opinion, the uncondition/unmade/unborn is in reference to unbinding and nirvana, not to some aspect of human behavior or person-hood.

    It was you @Talisman that first used the term 'driving human behaviour' in this thread.
    I am simply pointing out that no one said that the Unborn ( note the capital, which all translators deploy ) is the driver of human behaviour...rather the reverse.
    Actually you caused the confusion, @Citta. Talisman wrote:
    The belief in an unconditioned element that precedes and governs human behavior is in contrast to the Buddha's teaching on anatman and not-self.
    and you responded:
    Not so.
    ...
    By saying "not so" it appears as though you are saying that the belief in an unconditioned element that precedes and governs human behavior is consistent with the Buddha's teaching on anatman.
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    I did not use the term 'governs human behaviour' And did not feel the need at that point to address that.
    The Buddha did indeed teach that there is an Unconditioned which is prior to human functioning and the arising of the skandhas/khandas.
    This in no way is in contradiction to his teaching on anatta.
    Anatta refers to that which is conditioned.
    '
  • misterCopemisterCope PA, USA Veteran
    @Talisman, thank you so much for your answer! I'd like to ask you many more questions, if I may :)

    What caused the child to put the object into her mouth the very first time? Just an accident? How would you explain numerous other firsts in people's lives?

    Also, what about someone who tries something for the first time, and receives negative feedback, then does it again (or over and over again), how do you explain that?

    Also, what about someone who meditates, specifically with no goal in mind? Let's assume that the person is a Zen practitioner who genuinely has no attachment to any input, good or bad. Things happening while she meditates are just things happening; absolutely any feedback has no effect on her. How would Behaviorism explain that?

    Also, why do elephants mourn their dead?

    I truly appreciate your answers.
  • My dad told me a story; I think it was BF Skinner?? They took all these birds and then gave them reinforcing bird treats. He said that they all developed a different behaviour. Some went around in circles. Some raise their wings up and stood on one leg. But they all had different behaviours. @Talisman, I posit that behaviourism explains the conditioning of course, but I am left with how each bird had a different behaviour? I guess it was kind of random.

    My Dad is a psychologist and in my younger years I remember he told my mom that he would condition her by us not getting a Christmas tree or something like that if she didn't do something he wanted. (He's an awesome person now after 7 years of therapy). Anyhow my mom made him eat his words. My conclusion is that it is harder to train humans then dogs/pavlov because the human is aware, potentially, that you are conditioning them.

    Thanks for posting this. The fogginess and lack of clarity I have about this point out my weak spots and I am sure they will lead to a question *eventually* but right now I am just foggy.
  • TalismanTalisman Veteran
    edited August 2013
    @mistercope

    When the child is first held to her mother's breast, the act of suckling is reinforced by unlearned reinforcing conditions including warmth from the mother and the removal of unlearned aversive stimuli associated with hunger. Putting things in your mouth is a behavior that is reinforced from an incredibly early age.

    Novel behavior occurs for many different reasons and I would need a more specific example to give my opinion on how that behavior developed and is maintained. Regarding "negative feedback" you need to remember that "negative" does not always mean "punishing." When I work with the kids, a lot of the time they will perform some inappropriate behavior, like screaming, spitting, hitting, falling to the floor, etc. Often times when a child will do that, the parent will shout at the child for misbehaving and tell them they shouldn't do it. "Stop that, don't do that, you're being bad." But if the frequency of the behavior increases that means that those statements are not working to punish the behavior but are in fact acting as reinforcing stimuli. In most cases it is the attention they are receiving that reinforces the inappropriate behavior, even though the outside observer may think that the "negative feedback" should be punishing the behavior and decreasing its frequency.

    The questions about meditation confuse me. I consider attachment to be a type of behavior. Meditation is a way of practicing one single behavior, namely the behavior of attending to a single stimulus for extended periods of time. Attending is a necessary skill for properly analyzing phenomena related to the nature of suffering. Meditation alone does not lead to liberation from attachment.

    What does it mean for someone or something to "mourn?"
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    Citta said:

    I did not use the term 'governs human behaviour'

    No of course you didn't, Talisman did.
  • FlorianFlorian Veteran
    edited August 2013
    Strange. I thought Behaviourism was dead and buried, outside of its use in informing certain approaches to treatments. As a philosophical idea I thought it disappeared twenty years ago. Indeed, I became interested in consciousness studies precisely because Behaviourism had been debunked and the discipline had been set free. Obviously our behaviour is governed to a large extent by rewards, stimulus, reinforcement, etc., and we would not survive long it this were not so. But extending this into a philosophical theory that might compete with Buddhism has proven to be impossible. It cannot explain why we bother behaving in the first place, or why we care whether we receive a reward or a punishment.

    If we merely respond to stimulus then we are what Gurdjieff calls a robot. To escape this fate we would have to 'learn how to be'. This would allow us to transcend our programmed behaviour, a possibility for which Behaviousism does not allow.
  • CittaCitta Veteran
    edited August 2013
    Behaviourism is very much alive.
    It informs much modern educational theory as well as being the basis for current and highly effective psychotherapeutic interventions like CBT and its variations.
    What has become far more muted is the claims of Behaviourism as a philiosophical explanation of human nature. It is widely recognised that while describing certain aspects of human life with great accuracy it fails to engage with what we might call the higher functions...aesthetic, cultural, emotional and for want of a better word ..spiritual.
    But if you have a phobia or compulsive behaviour ( for example ), or if you are constantly ruminating in a depressed or unrealistic inflated way, then Behavioural methods can cut through that in a way that a life time of Freudian or Jungian analysis could not even begin to approach.
  • @florian

    "It cannot explain why we bother behaving in the first place, or why we care whether we receive a reward or a punishment. "

    This statement is so incredibly false, it shocks me that you would say it with such flippancy. Behavior Analysis, as a scientific field of study, is flourishing more today than it ever has. This ridiculous demonizing of ABA is why so many parents in this country and throughout the world are unable to receive necessary early behavioral intervention for their children suffering from autism and other developmental disabilities.

    You don't need to be a "believer" to recognize the evidence that Behavior Analysis is one of the most important scientific developments in history, and that it's applications can be used to help people the world over.
    Frolickertom
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