3.4 Defining Psychological Event

What is a psychological event? Pretty much anything a person does is a psychological event. This includes events or behaviors that are observable by others, such as smiling or walking, and events or behaviors that are not observable by others, such as thinking and feeling.

Examples of Psychological Events

A woman sitting on a couch with a laptop in front of a window, experiencing a defining psychological event.
A woman thinking about email
A boy experiencing joy while jumping on a trampoline.
A child jumping
A woman posing for a photo in an astronaut suit.
An astronaut feeling superior to you
A man with a backpack is experiencing a defining psychological event at a train station.
A hipster texting

Some will note that this definition of “psychological event” is very similar to the definition of “behavior” offered by radical behaviorists, such as B.F. Skinner. The problem is that most of the rest of the world does not define “behavior” the way a radical behaviorist does. For most people (including many psychologists and even some types of behaviorists), “behavior” does not include private events such as thinking or feeling. 

Functional contextualists could simply use “behavior” but then carefully define it, as Skinner often did in his writings. However, it could be argued that Skinner was fighting an uphill battle with that approach and that he ultimately wasn’t terribly successful in convincing people to include private events in their definition of “behavior.” Thus, we have the use of “psychological event” by functional contextualists. 

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So functional contextualists entertain the premise that “psychological events,” however they define the word, include both private and public behaviors? Are they radical behaviorists?

Yes, functional contextualists include private events in their definition of “psychological events,” as explained on this very page. Functional contextualism can be considered a slight reworking of radical behaviorism, though even that description depends, to some degree, on how one interprets radical behaviorism. Not all behavior analysts interpret radical behaviorism the same way; see Baum (2011), for just one example of debate around what “radical behaviorism” means, and see Hayes, Hayes, and Reese (1988) for a longer explanation of how conceptual differences in behavior analysis can often be attributed to differences between the philosophical assumptions of “contextualism” and “mechanism.”

This is a interesting topic, in this field observable events are highly focused on. not observable events are important but I have hardly worked with them. How does the field of ABA find balance?

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