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Toward a Contingency Analytic Account of Private Experience

1 hours, 21 minutes
1.5 BACB
T.V. Joe Layng, PhD

The distinction between public and private is by no means the same as that between physical and mental.

B.F. Skinner 


We all have feelings, thoughts, and experiences that occur within our skin. Skinner proposes that “An adequate science of behavior must consider events taking place within the skin of the organism, not as physiological mediators of behavior but as part of behavior itself” (Skinner, 1963). In his Continuing Education course, Joe Lang takes us on a journey from methodological behaviorism toward a contingency analytic account of private experience. We don’t need to have an image or even a representation of an image in our head to privately experience it. The same can be said for hearing. There isn’t an internal voice box or ear that aids subvocal speech. The task is investigating something that nothing can be said about. Our verbal community shapes our understanding of our private events, but it isn’t always valid. Words don’t stand for things; rather, they are shaped by their use in the verbal community. Words are spoken to meet contingency requirements. It’s possible for behavior to be under instructional control alone when we have an experience without the discriminative stimuli being present, or behavior can be under instructional and dimensional control when the discriminative stimuli are present. This accounts for us experiencing events without the stimuli being present.  

Learning Objectives

What you’ll learn in the course and be able to do afterward 

  • Distinguish between Watsonian, methodological, and radical behaviorism 

  • Describe Skinner’s approach to private experience 

  • Describe the Goldiamond experiments that suggest no image or sensation is actually privately seen or felt 

  • Describe how we learn to talk about our private experience 

  • Distinguish between being a part of behavior (or a contingency) and behavior 

  • Describe how the behavior of driving can occur with no car or road present 

  • Describe the difference between seeing/hearing in the presence of a stimulus and seeing/hearing when the thing seen or heard is absent 

  • Explain why hearing yourself privately speak is not evidence for subvocal speech 

  • Describe the role of SDI guidance in comprehension 

  • Explain how we may account for “free thinking” 

  • Explain the role of the program in investigating thinking 


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