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The basic-applied continuum and the possible evolution of human operant social and verbal research

By Don F. Hake


Human operant research is typically viewed as fitting somewhere between the end points of a basic-to-applied continuum. Viewed in this way, the major role of human operant research is to determine the conditions under which principles discovered with animals also hold with humans. Relative to the basic and applied end points, which have defined the major journals and graduate training programs in Behavior Analysis, the human operant area has not been strong since the late 1950's when a scientifically based application was only an exciting possibility. However, application quickly became a reality and to some extent it replaced the major role of human operant research. After about 15 years of focusing on the basic and applied end points, an increasing number of behavior analysts are concerned about the large content of psychology (e.g., social and verbal behavior) between the end points and the continued growth of Behavior Analysis. Basic research in social and verbal behavior should ordinarily begin with the human instead of a lower animal, because the human is the most qualified and prepared subject in the sense that most complex social and verbal behaviors are more accessible in humans. This new role for basic human research of initiating rather than only replicating, could result in a rebuilding of the “bridge” between basic and applied, and contribute to the growth of Behavior Analysis in terms of extensions to new content areas, methods, and the followers it would reach in these areas

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