Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Jack Michael


There is no science of human behavior, not even an incipient one. The popular conception of applied behavior analysis as a genuine principle-driven technology is mostly an illusion. Two sorts of evidence support this conclusion. The first is an ever widening split between the field's basic and applied realms. The second, thus far unacknowledged, is that when the concepts of operant and respondent conditioning are extended to human behavior, they are often rendered as no more than metaphors. These metaphors are not confined to casual discourse or even to interpretation. In fact, they are the prevailing form of extension in large segments of the applied domain. Hence, the real value of the experimental analysis of behavior for clinical application is heuristic in nature. Metaphorically extended principles yield techniques, and techniques, however valuable they may be, should not be confused with technology.

In addition to questioning the conventional wisdom which holds that a new science is in the offing, the ambitious promise behind that science also warrants a renewed and vigorous skepticism. Parts of the scientific promise have been grossly oversold, especially the part which assumes that psychological discoveries will be required to save humanity from itself. It may simply be a mistake to accept the very plausible notion that a science of behavior will provide solutions to the big problems in human engineering.

None of this is necessarily bad news for the practitioner. The marriage of scientific method and human behavior can still offer many practical, although highly circumscribed, contributions. Some of these may provisionally qualify as technology, but most will fall into the broad category of technique. It is suggested that both direct and heuristically based interventions be pursued, especially where their payoff is likely to be the greatest. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the discipline's aspiration to scientific status can best be evaluated when we begin to recognize that the two endeavors are not all of a piece.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

Included in

Psychology Commons