Thought Leaders 020 - Dr. Darnell Lattal - Part 2

This month on Operant Innovations - Thought Leaders, we are back with Dr. Darnell Lattal as she answers the questions "Where do you see the field going?" and/or "Where would he like to see the field go?"


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Shauna Costello (00:01):

You're listening to Operant Innovations. A podcast brought to you by ABA Technologies. This month, we're back with Dr. Darnell Lattal as she talks about where she sees the field going and where she'd like to see the field go. Where do you see the field going and where would you like to see the field go?

Dr. Darnell Lattal (00:24):

I have many thoughts about where this field should go and I see things in the present that give me pause. And one of the things that I find most interesting and perhaps a little distressing is we train behavior analysts, but we quickly revert to labels. We interpret behavior through labels and we do it to the utter destruction of people in our field. Sometimes with self-righteousness and that sense of glory that we've just wrecked another life or whatever. That concerns me greatly. There are several groups on the web where you can enter with permission and I'm in one such group. And, in part, the group was born of fear and threat in the sense that many practicing behavior analysts did not feel that they could freely discuss with their bosses and managers, their concerns about the practice of behavior analysis without being harshly judged, and that they came to a group to give them support. A kind of work around group to give them support. It's interesting to me that the dialogue isn't to bring in those who are doing this to their people. Perceive doing it. It's a perceived sense that these individuals will do them harm if they don't get it. We still run many companies with threat and fear as the underlying condition of how these great behavior analysts who understand so much about the effects of consequences, set up conditions, where their employees cannot speak openly in their environment. That's of great concern to me and it's of great concern to me that the advice we give to one another is pretty judgy. Pretty pejorative, pretty full of intention about the bosses, about the leaders, about their stupidity, or they just don't get it. There's no sense that we as behavior analysts need to learn how to look one another in the eye and have direct conversations about when you arrange this kind of condition, whatever you intended, you affect this kind of behavior and now many people bring their histories to these environments. And I don't see much discussion about the history I bring. The history that has led me to see bosses as those guys who don't care. They just want to make money or they're only about financial gain. They really don't care about our clients. I don't know. We bring our histories or we were in environments in other companies where we were fired at will, or they didn't care. "Nobody spoke to me for three years and I got to do whatever I did, but my behavior was never something they were trying to develop and celebrate." So we bring our histories to the equation. We end up bringing our own histories with using punishing strategies against others. Again, that we have been highly reinforced for. We have used our words in ways that have taught us, even though we're behavior analysts, to be extremely abusive verbally toward other people. And we pride ourselves in that. I know several behavior analysts who say, "I'm who I am. I am who I am. I'm out there. I am this kind of person and to hell with anybody else. And you either love me or you hate me, but I'm going to be who I am" posted all over his particular website. Do I think that's grand? I don't know. It's who he is. So should I say hooray for him? Or should I say it's sad for our science? It's sad for our science that we as humans, don't put ourselves inside behavior analysis. The tools of learning. How did we become such aggressive people ourselves? And how did we form little cult divisions? Where we can express ourselves and shame others? Where everybody knows who some of these bosses are. Everybody knows who might've done that thing. And the rumor is out there and you have no way to address it. So that is a great concern. We don't graduate from our programs, behavior analysts, who ever go through self assessment. Not to the degree I want them to. I would like our program, particularly our Master's, to insist that everyone single graduate of that Master's program goes through a process of looking at oneself and one's history of reinforcement, both verbally and behaviorally in terms of action. So that we have a better understanding of where we fit in promoting coercion, threat and fear. Better at where we fit in promoting positive reinforcement, but not by being sweet, kind, indirect, positive when we're really seething with anger about something, which I see a lot too. There's behavior analysts sometimes in my company that are full of love and goodwill, who may be at the same time, quite angry for the way they've been treated. So learning to get congruence about our own behavior, using the science on ourselves would be a great treat. A great benefit of this program of training others. That's one thing.

Shauna Costello (06:25):

Well, and that's something that I noticed too, even with myself after I graduated with my Master's degree and how much further I've evolved, I guess you want to say. There's this notion that, and I see it more and this is anecdotal, of course, but I see it more with new graduates. You come out of your program and this science of behavior is all encompassing. "We're the right ones. Everyone else is wrong. You have to listen to us. What you do sucks." And that's, I think, what's gotten our field in a lot of trouble.

Dr. Darnell Lattal (07:18):

It has from the very beginning even during Skinner's time. Yeah.

Shauna Costello (07:23):

Yeah. And I'm not saying that I don't agree. I understand there's different ways to go about it.

Dr. Darnell Lattal (07:33):

I'm not sure we have all truth.

Shauna Costello (07:36):


Dr. Darnell Lattal (07:36):

We still have things to learn. We're still discovering principles. We consider to be principles that have one or two studies backing them up as absolute principles. So they may not be, but we make a lot of assumptions about our sense of the world comes back to us in all things. Yeah. It's an endless circle of, "We're right. You're wrong." But if we can look at what others do, we may learn that they do just fine. There's something about it that moves us away from being scientists to being really judgers. And the word judgment is one that... I mean, judging disdain for what others say and do and without looking at ourselves, it just drives me crazy. So I think we really need to do that. We need to be functionally analytic. That's another core principle. We need to look at what happens, not so much about what we want. What our rules would say. A good person, a good performer would do. We need to look at what happens and then arrange conditions so that better things can happen. Instead, we came out with a checklist of, "if you don't do it this way, you're doing it wrong." And I never learned that in school. I never learned that we can move away from objectivity, but man, there's a rush from objectivity to righteousness. It really is insane. So I'd like to see that modified in some way and I'm not sure what the answer is to that. There are many, many great behavior analysts graduating. One of the things that Ben Franklin said and it's a great thing I really love. He said, "Carved mistakes and sand and success in stone." And I've always thought that was what we were about. That people make mistakes, but those are learning opportunities. And when they succeed we celebrate that. We let them know and we have them tell their stories. So they know what they did in that environment. That's real celebration. And it helps them in future events, learn to master confronting events, like handling the physiological effects of emotional words that cloud their heads and that sort of thing. We also don't teach ourselves much about our emotional volatility. Our reactivity to events in our environment that cause us to get that angry, blown off head. We need a little training in that arena too. To calm down, to be less righteous, whatever.

Shauna Costello (10:35):

I know. That's why I've been very happy to be working with some of the people that ABA Tech has been able to work with. Yeah, they are behavioral scientists, but they also bring in all of these...they've taken the time to study these other fields that can help hook up behavior analysis.

Dr. Darnell Lattal (10:58):

Help us.

New Speaker (10:58):

I was going to say one book too. I don't know if you've read it. It's called, "Evolution in four dimensions."

Dr. Darnell Lattal (11:03):

Oh yeah.

Shauna Costello (11:04):

Loved it.

New Speaker (11:05):

Many great things we could learn from others. I was at a meeting, Sidman used to have this symposium in Florida and invited people to come to it. And during one of the sessions, Jack Moore said, "Why don't we ever look at what we can learn from social psychologists?" They actually have a methodology of studying human behavior as it occurs in the field that can enrich what we do if we go and really look, but we're so sensitive about their causal associations that we don't look. They see maybe internal states and traits maybe. And we see this external world as shaping that, but we could learn so much by looking at other fields of study and more and more we're going there. And I guess if you talk about where do I want us to go, I want us to be more broadly read. I want us to engage in broad studies. I want us to read things that are outside our field and apply this great lens of behavior analysis to the, "how they got there", but not to judge it as inadequate. It's more powerful. They're at think tanks across America, these kinds of folks. We're not. We are continuing to be really, really widely regarded in many fields as seen as kind of technicians of how to manage individual performance issues. Not how to change culture, not how to affect society. And we've given away a lot of that by ignoring and refusing, to join in a dialogue with others where we could come together on some common path forward. I don't mean to compromise what we say and do at all. We don't need to. Never found that to be the case, but I've certainly worked across disciplines and found that I've been enriched by it and I think we could be too. But fundamentally, I want us to become people who see us,ourselves, as the first target of change. I really mean that. Every instance where we see disruption, discord or things we do not like. What are we doing and saying first? What can we do and say differently? I'd really love for us to get there.

Shauna Costello (13:30):

One thing that I think people tend to forget too, is that Skinner actually won humanist of the year.

Dr. Darnell Lattal (13:37):

I know. That's true. He often would say that he said things that were equivalent to let behavior find its flaw or just arrange the conditions that surround it and let behavior become what it will become in that environment. Pigeons in a box. They're just in the box. Their behavior is the free operant. They get to circle around and find something and they pick on it. Suddenly new behavior is shaped and so on with humans too. We're in an environment and we arrange the conditions and people's behavior flows to it, or if they need early training because they don't have a skillset then maybe, but a lot of workers are fully trained. They're totally capable of arranging the conditions. Arranging their effects if we arrange the conditions. So we need to get out of this, "We manage all behavior" to, "We manage the conditions that surround individuals and their success." Yeah. Skinner was a humanist. At least I see him as having introduced the most humanistic of science. A sense that all human beings have potential that is generally unlimited. There are limits of biology, but beyond that, all of us could be much more than we are today in a good way for us. We should open those flood gates to that potential.

Shauna Costello (15:18):

Is there anything else that you'd like to say about your history?

Dr. Darnell Lattal (15:28):

I don't know. This was a lot of blah-blah-blah..

Shauna Costello (15:31):

I learned so much about your story that I didn't necessarily know either. Even me, we only saw what I already knew, rather than really where you came from. Thank you for listening to this month's episode of Thought Leaders. And as always, if you have questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us at


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