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Behavioral Perspectives an individuals personality repertoire. Other texts

on Personality that do include behavioral explanations tend to
use an overly simplistic and outdated critique
S. Kathleen Bishop1, Mark R. Dixon2, James W. wrought with misconceptions (Arntzen
Moore1 and Marshall P. Lundy1 et al. 2010). For example, Friedman and
The University of Southern Mississippi, Schustack (2012) consistently refer to radical
Hattiesburg, MS, USA behaviorism as a stimulus-response analysis of
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL, human behavior, which is a common mis-
USA conception of Skinnerian behaviorism (for a
more thorough description of radical behaviorism,
see Lundy, Moore, & Bishop, this edition).
Synonyms Although most theories of personality disagree
on topics such as free will and offer divergent
Radical behaviorism; Reinforcement; Relational concepts and methods, the majority explain these
frame theory; Rule-governed behavior phenomena as by-products of some underlying
force or state, such as the notion of unconscious
drives or instincts focused in specic ways. In
Overview contrast, a behavioral perspective tends to exam-
ine the observable, measurable manifestations of
The American Psychological Association denes the person and, when consistent over time, paints
personality as individual differences in charac- the picture of that individuals personality. The
teristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving root of the problem comes from the lack of under-
(Kazdin 2000). Many undergraduate psychology standing by most historians of personality theory
textbooks include reviews of various theories that the behavioral approach has changed
of personality, including psychoanalytic, drastically over the past 100 or so years. Today,
neo-analytic, biological, cognitive, social- most behavioral scientists would have no con-
cognitive, trait, humanistic, existential, positive, cerns speaking about the personality of a given
and person-situation interactionist (see Friedman individual. The core distinction between a behav-
and Schustack 2012, as an example). Although ioral and non-behavioral stance on personality
many texts omit learning theory or behavior ana- and individual differences rests on the cause of
lytic positions, contemporary behavioral science the personality, not the presence of the personality
has a well-articulated stance on what constitutes itself.

# Springer International Publishing AG 2016

V. Zeigler-Hill, T.K. Shackelford (eds.), Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_962-1
2 Behavioral Perspectives on Personality

Historical Development personality as the basis for psychological unity,

coherence and identity (p. 310). He considered
Although Sigmund Freud often represents the personality as stable responding based on biolog-
most well-known pop-personality theorist, believ- ical identity and membership in a cohesive social
ing the causes of behavior stem from childhood unit (e.g., a family). In an unstable environment,
experiences locked deep within the psyche, the the individual develops disorder in their personal-
scientic and philosophical study of personality ity, resulting in psychopathy or multiple person-
can be traced as far back as Ancient Greece. alities. Furthermore, personality comprises
Though much of Greek literature focused on specic traits that develop based on ones
mythology and themes of mysticism, Hellenic reactional biography including an individuals
culture and philosophy was largely naturalistic history of skill acquisition, preference develop-
(Kantor 1963). According to Delprato (2003), ment, and how their communication evolves.
many Greek philosophers adhered to a strict Though Kantor never used the word reinforce-
form of humanism, placing humans as the mea- ment, he wrote about how our personality traits
sure and maker of all things. While the Greek gods are shaped by the environment. He viewed evolu-
were viewed as superhuman, there were not con- tion and natural selection as key factors driving
sidered supernatural. Scientists and philosophers personality development and explored how these
at the time never applied the mystical, invisible variables impact the creation of traits that can be
attributes of Olympus to human experiences, but categorized as universal, social, or individual.
rather sought measurable, observable truths. Per- Kantor explained differences in individual per-
haps this preference for the tangible led to Hip- sonalities as the result of cultural conditioning.
pocrates (400 BCE) developing personality types He gave the example of two children in the same
based on excesses or deciencies of bodily uids household who may be treated in different ways
(humors). The four humors included choleric based on sex, appearance, birth order, etc. While
(yellow bile), melancholic (black bile), sanguine Kantors theories contained elements of mental-
(blood), and phlegmatic (phlegm) and determined ism, he moved from psychological phenomena as
irritable, depressed, optimistic, and calm person- mental states toward a scientic explanation for
alities, respectively. A proper balance of these behavior as an interaction with various environ-
humors was considered essential to maintaining mental stimuli.
health, with an imbalance thought to drive an During the time of Kantor, introspection still
individuals personality in the direction of the dominated psychology. In J. B. Watson (1913)
imbalance. For example, a person with an over- argued against introspection and championed psy-
abundance of black bile may tend to show signs of chology as the science of behavior, with the over-
depression. arching goals of description, prediction, and
From the Ancient Greeks, a belief in both control. Watson developed stimulus-response
mysticism (or modern mentalism) as well as an behaviorism, referred to as methodological
appeal to natural science explanations of human behaviorism which posited that psychology
behavior emerged. J. R. Kantor (1924) was an should only be concerned with observable
American psychologist in the early 1900s who behavior (as opposed to mental states), speci-
was greatly inuenced by the naturalism of cally how stimuli evoked responses (Cooper
Ancient Greek philosophy. His multivolume et al. 2007). However, Watson did not deny that
work Principles of Psychology introduced the important events occur inside the skin; he
term interbehavioral to describe a radical system stated that these events should be viewed as
of psychology that used naturalistic methods to behavior and understood in the same way as
understand behavior. Kantor felt that psychology behaviors that occur outside the skin (Moore
should use the same objective scientic rigor as 2015). He believed that personalities resulted
any other natural science, namely, the scientic from habit systems, repeated responses to external
method. Kantors (1938) theory dened stimuli, and that personalities could be changed
Behavioral Perspectives on Personality 3

with conditioning or unconditioning. His well- Causes of Personality and Individual

known experiment with Little Albert showed Differences
how personality traits, such as emotional reac-
tions, could be created through classical An important and rather novel consideration
conditioning. regarding the nature of how an individuals per-
In 1938, B. F. Skinner, a contemporary of sonality appeared to observers also developed
Kantor and Watson, founded the experimental from the behavioral perspective. Instead of deter-
branch of behaviorism that would later develop mining the reason for these individual differences
into the variation termed radical behaviorism. by examining what they looked like to the casual
This approach offered a stark departure from the observer, the more contemporary behavioral com-
stimulus-response psychology of Watson by munity begged the question of cause, cause found
focusing on the selection of behavior via conse- on the outside of the person, not the inside. Could
quences (Skinner 1981). The environment, which a behavior that looked the same in two instances
includes public and private stimuli, leads to the arise from different environmental events to func-
selection of behaviors that benet the organism tion in dissimilar ways? Could the cause be dif-
(for a more detailed explanation of Radical ferent when the manifestations of a personality
Behaviorism, see Lundy, Moore, & Bishop, this were the same? A variety of explorations on this
edition). While behaviorists have historically very notion of cause occurred across topics such
avoided the use of the term personality, there are as syndromal classication (Hayes and Follette
key areas of overlap in what is often referred to as 1992), maladaptive motor behaviors (Woods
personality and individual differences that also et al. 2001), and addictions (Dixon and Johnson
interests the behaviorist, who has discussed the 2007). Together the conclusion appears to be that
phenomena simply as a stable behavior pattern when we appraise the dimensions of behavior
still inuenced by historical environmental (i.e., frequency, severity, probability), the investi-
factors (e.g., Kanfer and Karoly 1972). Regard- gation should also consider the controlling events,
less of theoretical orientation, most psychologists which surround the behavior, and not rely on the
nd keen interest in the behavior of individuals topography, or the way a behavior looks, in isola-
across space and time, especially when tion. Evolving into what has been termed the
considering the causes and consistency of behav- functional approach (Haynes et al. 1995), the
ior. As such, it is important to note that despite behaviorist eye is toward function over form, with
popular belief, behaviorists do not deny the exis- the realization that many behaviors may look the
tence of feelings, thinking, or other aspects of same yet are present because of and sustained by
what some call the mental life. For the radical quite different reasons. This perhaps speaks to the
behaviorist, all experiences (whether public or very nature of what an individual difference
private) constitute either behavior or stimulus should be dened as.
events. While many personality theories treat Contemporary treatment approaches to person-
behavior as the by-product of some underlying, ality disorders follow in their heterogeneous
psychic cause, more contemporary behaviorists applications to identical presenting problems,
see behavior as the direct result of an environmen- based upon the primary maintaining variables
tal interaction that serves a specic cause. Fur- that have manifested the condition. For example,
thermore, some behaviorists have even expanded a client who engages in chronic psychedelic sub-
the potential causes behind why people do the stance use (addictive personality) may be treated
things they do to include neurological compo- by focusing on alternative competing behaviors
nents (Heilman et al. 1993; Raine et al. 2000). such as attending church or taking a college
Measurability of such neurological elements course, while another client with the same disor-
allows for an objective verication of their exis- der may be given an opiate blocker. In the rst
tence, rather than previously hypothesized inter- case the client may be using drugs to increase
nal forces. attendance in peer activities such as going to
4 Behavioral Perspectives on Personality

rock concerts or hiking in the woods with drug- behavioral perspective, dispositional traits are
using peers. Yet in the second case, the client may viewed as behaviors that are reinforced. Keeping
be seeking the neurological stimulation of the with a functional approach, the behavior of any
drugs and be perfectly content sitting home in individual essentially functions to get or get
isolation. Same presenting problems (drug use) out of something.
are exhibited across clients, yet the function sus- In terms of getting something, behavior may
taining the behavior (social reinforcement versus function to obtain certain stimuli, called rein-
neurological stimulation) is radically forcers. Behaviors that contingently produce rein-
different hence the necessity of a functional forcers typically increase over time. This type of
approach to treatment which is at the core of contingency is called positive reinforcement. Sev-
behavioral science. There are a wide variety of eral factors determine the reinforcing properties of
core behavioral processes for presenting person- a consequent stimulus and tend to be idiosyncratic
ality problems ranging from positive reinforce- over time. Therefore, stimuli that function as rein-
ment procedures (Leitenberg et al. 1977), forcers for the behavior of one individual may or
negative reinforcement procedures (Iwata 1987), may not function in a similar manner for someone
differential reinforcement (Patel et al. 2002), non- else. In general, social positive reinforcement
contingent reinforcement (Carr et al. 2000), to refers to the delivery of reinforcers in public,
introducing choices (Shogren et al. 2004), each such as attention, toys, food, and many other
of which is selected based on the hypothesized examples. Appropriate and inappropriate behav-
functional account of what is sustaining an indi- iors are said to be maintained by social positive
vidual clients challenges. When the root cause of reinforcement if a functional relationship is
the personality disorder remains outside of the observed between the behavior and the putative
client, it seems plausible that changing such envi- reinforcer. For example, if a child tantrums in line
ronmental conditions could alter the presenting at the grocery store and this tantrum behavior is
problems. However, when cause remains within typically followed by access to a candy bar, then
the person themselves, a subjective interpretation the tantrum behavior is likely maintained, or
rests on the clinician as how to initiate the change supported, by a contingency of social positive
process. Potentially, even worse prognoses may reinforcement. The form of the behavior is sec-
occur when the clinician deduces a disease model ondary to the function it serves (i.e., obtaining the
approach that further limits treatment options. candy bar). Automatic positive reinforcement
refers to the delivery of private reinforcers pro-
duced directly by the behavior and may include
Environmental Factors that Develop such things as neurotransmitter release, self-
a Personality generated speech, or other internal consequences
directly produced by the behavior. People who
With the behavioral perspective resting on the engage in extreme exercise often refer to a run-
pre-analytic assumptions of prediction and con- ners high or a general feeling of euphoria fol-
trol, a few well-established principles of the lowing a hard workout. Their description likely
approach contribute in orderly ways to craft the refers to the private release of a reinforcer (e.g.,
eventual personality of a given individual. When endogenous opiates) following exercise.
these principles remain consistent across time and Behaviors may also function to get out of
place, a fair amount of predictability develops something. In other words, the behavior serves to
which aids the clinician in understanding the remove an aversive stimulus. Behaviors that result
why of an individuals behavior. in the removal of aversive stimuli also tend to
Consequences and Behavioral Economics. increase over time. This type of contingency is
Perhaps there is no more important principle commonly labeled negative reinforcement. As
within the behavioral framework than that of con- with reinforcers, aversives are also idiosyncratic
sequential control. Within the context of a across people and situations. Many people
Behavioral Perspectives on Personality 5

incorrectly assume that their personal preferences behavior reects what pays off for him in each
are universal. Additionally, it is easy to allow the environment. As such, an intervention that
intended function of some stimulus arrangement focuses on the function of Billys behavior will
to blind one to the actual function. To correctly likely produce a more desirable result than one
identify the function of behavior requires careful targeting dispositional forces or diagnostic labels.
observation of the effect of various stimulus The above discussion detailed powerful func-
arrangements on behavior over time. As with pos- tional contingencies that produce or generate
itive reinforcement, negative reinforcement may behavior. For example, one might be labeled
also maintain control of appropriate and inappro- extrovert, not because of dispositional forces,
priate behavior. If a teacher tells a student, great but rather a history of reinforcement for behaviors
job working quietly at your desk. You do not need commonly viewed as extroverted. Conse-
to complete your math homework tonight and, quences within the environment may also sup-
over time, the students quiet work behavior press behavior. These contingencies also involve
increases, it is likely that negative reinforcement reinforcers and aversive stimuli, but in different
is at work. Again, social negative reinforcement actions. Sometimes, a behavior leads to the pre-
refers to the removal of public aversive stimuli, sentation of an aversive stimulus. A wrong turn on
while automatic negative reinforcement applies to a bicycle may cause you to wreck and injure
private aversive stimuli. yourself. In the future, you are now less likely to
Lets examine a hypothetical example that rep- make a similar wrong turn. This stimulus arrange-
resents a common issue for applied behavior ana- ment is known as positive punishment, not
lysts who work with children. Billy, an 8-year-old because something great has happened, but due
male with developmental delays, is referred to a to the addition (positive) of an aversive stimulus
clinician for problem behavior. Billys mother contingent on behavior. The contingent removal
describes him as whiny, dramatic, and occasion- of a reinforcer also leads to a suppression of
ally aggressive. However, Billys teacher behavior in a contingency termed negative pun-
describes him as polite, helpful, and independent. ishment. Imagine that you are sitting with friends
If asked about this discrepancy, Mom might sug- having a great time telling jokes. Your friends are
gest that Billy is shy with new adults or perhaps he laughing and pouring on the attention. Your next
is being manipulative. These dispositional adjec- joke is a bit off-color and falls at. Your friends
tives are all descriptors that paint a vague picture stop laughing no longer attend to you. For the rest
of Billy and his behavior across two environ- of the night, you sit quietly and then decide to
ments. One can create a mental picture of what leave early. The contingent removal of reinforcers
is meant by whiny or helpful; however, the (your friends laughter and attention) caused this
behaviorist is more interested in what contin- reduction in your extroverted behavior. Con-
gences are in place to support those behaviors. versely, it was the same reinforcers that initially
Upon observation, the behaviorist observes maintained your extroverted behaviors. Contin-
Mom, after an 8-h shift, returns home and allows gencies of punishment may offer parsimonious
Billy access to just about anything as long as he environmental explanations for a number of traits,
stops the whining so she can make dinner in such as introversion.
peace. Or perhaps she can sometimes ignore the Contrary to popular belief, radical behaviorists
whining, but gives in during a full-blown tantrum. do not view behavior as the product of single or
His teacher, however, ignores all bad behavior but simple contingencies. Rather, the behavior emit-
delivers praise and rewards only for completing ted by an individual at any given time is the result
work quietly or assisting a classmate. In this of competition between multiple available contin-
example, one can easily see that Billys behavior gencies. More recent behavior analytic research
is a product of consequences, in this case involv- has incorporated principles of behavioral econom-
ing two different environments, not predisposed ics to better capture the dynamic nature of rein-
traits living somewhere inside Billy. Billys forcement contingencies within various
6 Behavioral Perspectives on Personality

environmental contexts. Just as commodities up. This same cost-benet approach would help
compete for consumer dollars, multiple contin- understand the dynamic factors that could lead
gencies operate within a context competing for Bob to choose either option under differing cir-
behavior. Consider a child engaging in oral read- cumstances. If the test is scheduled for the next
ing during an elementary school lesson. A cursory morning, Bob may be more likely to choose
analysis of the environment might unveil several studying than if the test was a week or more
competing contingencies for the behavior of read- away. His current standing in the class may also
ing out loud: (a) how well the child reads (in other impact his choice. Even additional specic infor-
words, is reading naturally reinforcing or aversive mation about the party, such as who exactly will
due to the childs skill), (b) teacher attention attend, could also inuence his choice. Still, envi-
(presumably a contingency of positive reinforce- ronmental variables offer a more concrete analysis
ment), (c) potential ridicule and/or bullying from of his choice behavior than a consideration of
peers (presumably a contingency of positive pun- dispositional or other internal forces. The integra-
ishment), and (d) any other number of potential tion of behavioral economics into the eld of
functional contingencies. Now assume that behavior analysis offers much promise in the
another contingency exists: the student tells the design of effective interventions, especially
teacher that reading out loud makes him anxious, when traditional trait constructs, such as self-
so the teacher allows him to escape oral reading. control, may be involved.
Which behavior will be chosen? Motivating Operations. A relatively new prin-
From a behavioral economics view (see Reed ciple adopted by the behavioral approach is one of
et al. 2013 for a more thorough review), the motivation. Although the concept of motivation
behavior that produces greatest cost to benet has been a part of psychology for quite some time,
ratio, also known as unit price, will be chosen. behaviorists have only recently acknowledged the
Lets assume that teacher attention is available on critical role this may play in the development of
a very thin schedule of reinforcement (e.g., vari- eventual behavior. In a series of seminal papers,
able interval 200 s) and is of both low quality and Jack Michael (1982, 1988, 2000) introduced the
magnitude. If peer ridicule is available on a richer term motivating operations (MO) and described
schedule and presents a stimulus condition in two primary effects an MO exudes over behavior:
which the aversive properties outweigh the value-altering and behavior-altering effects.
reinforcing quality of teacher attention, the child A stimulus event, such as deprivation, satiation,
would predictably report anxiety to the teacher. or aversive stimulation, may temporarily alter the
This has much more to do with the benet of value of some consequent event. Specically, the
escaping the potentially aversive situation than MO may make a consequence more or less
any anxiety the child may or may not be reinforcing or more or less aversive. If you like
experiencing. A preponderance of aversive stim- cookies, for example, but just gorged yourself at
ulation, or even the potential for aversive stimu- the local buffet, cookies would likely not function
lation within the context, will likely produce as an effective reinforcer for your behavior at that
escape behaviors. In order for the child to choose time. An MO may also temporarily increase or
oral reading, the reinforcement (or benet) must decrease behaviors that have produced that con-
outweigh the cost (the difculty of the reading and sequence in the past. This behavior-altering effect
the peer-mediated contingency). has been described by Michael (2000) as either an
A more complicated arrangement is encoun- evocative or abative effect. Consider the individ-
tered when comparing immediate versus delayed ual whose wife hides his junk food due to his
contingencies. Suppose some friends invited a tendency to binge eat. For the most part, he
college student named Bob to a party at the most never searches for food, but on nights that he
popular sorority house on campus. Bob loves to works late and does not eat for 67 h, he tears
drink and have fun with his friends, especially the kitchen apart searching for calorie-dense
female friends, but he also has a big exam coming snacks. He may nally jump back in his car and
Behavioral Perspectives on Personality 7

drive to a nearby fast-food restaurant to obtain by their parent (pick up your toys; be nice to your
reinforcement. sister; do not steal), similar more personality-type
Motivating operations have temporary effects; rules may also be followed when delivered by the
as such, when the MO is not in place, the individ- same caregiver (always keep to yourself unless
ual may behave very differently than when he or you must talk; the key to happiness is by loving
she is under the inuence of an MO. Again, MOs others; never show someone you are scared).
can typically be grouped into conditions of depri- Unfortunately, not all rules are adaptive and thus
vation (which typically establish the effectiveness may plant the seeds for abnormal personalities to
of a reinforcer and evoke behaviors that have emerge (never be late or people will dislike you;
produced reinforcement in the past), satiation happiness is found in the bottom of a bottle of
(which typically abolish the effectiveness of a wine; most people in this world suck).
reinforcer and abate behaviors that have produced
reinforcement in the past), and aversive stimula-
tion (which can have both types of effect on Behavioral Selection and Cultural
behavior). From a practical standpoint, MOs Practices
help to explain situations in which people engage
in uncharacteristic behavior. These irregularities To this point, it should become apparent that the
are not the result of some invisible force or inter- behaviorist would nd great interest in behaviors
nal psychological disorder, but again an interac- related to the construct of personality, though the
tion between behavior and environmental events. employed approach to study it may differ greatly
Language. As the behavioral approach to from traditional methodologies. When it comes to
understanding behavior evolved from the study individual differences, behaviorists always con-
of nonhuman animals to that of fully developed sider how a behavior interacts with its environ-
humans, it became apparent that simple conse- ment. Humans learn, develop, prosper, adapt, and
quential control was insufcient to explain every- change all due to natural selection. At the most
thing a human being may do on a day to day basis. basic level, natural selection refers to the Darwin-
The initial attempt at understanding how language ian view of evolution related to the survival and
could play a role in altering the behavior was reproduction of some species and the extinction of
crafted by Skinners theoretical text Verbal others. Behaviorists refer to this level of selection
Behavior in (Skinner 1957). Adapted from a as phylogenic selection which is exclusively
long series of experiments with rats and pigeons, related to innate behaviors related to survival of
this book has been met with both support the species. According to Catania (1998), the
(Knapp 1992) and criticism (Chomsky 1971) inuence over behavior involves gradual changes
since its publication. Subsequent variations of at the genetic and/or physical level. Giraffes
the behavioral account continued, each with an developed long necks over a gradual period
increasing amount of empirical support to justify because those with longer necks tended to survive
its evolution from the initial Skinnerian doctrine and give birth to offspring with longer necks.
(Sidman 1997; Hayes et al. 2001). In totality, the Similarly, Russians have systematically bred
way language factors into an individuals person- tameability into red foxes, so much so that domes-
ality is by providing a set of rules by which we ticated red foxes serve as house pets in Russian
may try and live by. When done successfully, households.
reinforcement for following such rules is deliv- A second type of selection, ontogenic selec-
ered by the social community. When we fail do tion, is attributable to the unique life history of a
adhere to socially approved rules, the community person and what contingencies reinforced specic
may punish us or remove reinforcing conse- classes of behavior. While evolution for our spe-
quences from the near future. For example, when cies occurs slowly and on a macro-level, the
a history of reinforcement has been established for behavior of individuals also evolves through
an individual to comply with instructions or rules what is selected during their personal timeline.
8 Behavioral Perspectives on Personality

As discussed earlier, traits, which are viewed as example, it can be assumed that most individuals
behaviors, that are reinforced survive, while those who regularly operate vehicles are going to stop at
that do not produce favorable outcomes are red lights often, even though they never have
extinguished. personally experienced consequences associated
The third type of behavioral selection is cul- with running a red light. Most individuals stop at a
tural selection which accounts for behavior red light because of rules that have been verbally
passed from one person to the next, allowing the passed on (avoiding a car crash or receiving a
behavior to outlive the organism. The general trafc citation, for instance).
mechanics of cultural selection and ontogenic Many of these rules align with specic forms
selection are the same in that they affect classes of cultural practices that come to shape what our
of behavior. Imitation, observational learning, and society deems as moral or ethical behavior. For
rule-governed behavior allow members of a cul- example, if a culture perpetuates the rule an eye
ture to share behavior with each other, no matter for an eye, it should not come as a surprise that
how those individuals are genetically related. The members of that culture may nd revenge morally
emergence of language offers one of the most acceptable. Due to the differential reinforcement
glorious examples of cultural selection. It can be of a variety of behaviors that are declared good
taught informally, perhaps from mother to child, or bad in different cultures (which ultimately
or formally, within an education system. Whether make up cultural contingencies), individuals in
a babys repeating of mama is praised or a child one context develop a repertoire of behaviors
receives a sticker for spelling a difcult word, it is that are deemed good/moral in one environment
the social environment that ensures language sur- and bad/immoral in another environment.
vives within that culture through contingencies Human history accounts for many examples
(reinforcement and punishment) that promote (racial discrimination, social injustice, religious
language-producing behavior. Reinforcement intolerance, etc.) of the conict that can arise
and punishment also shape how we, as a culture, when incompatible cultural contingencies
celebrate holidays, raise our children, and treat the encounter one another.
disenfranchised members of our communities. The interplay of the three forms of selection
The notion of morality or ethical standards of lead to what Kantor called personality traits
behavior is one that has been a point of contention (1938). Traits may be thought of as the individual
for humans throughout the history of the species differences that make up the personality. Tradi-
and one that offers a poignant example of cultural tional psychologists measure them systematically
selection. Cultural selection, along with language, and believe they account for stability in behavior
allows humans to engage in a type of behavior patterns. Measured traits usually consist of paired
unique to the species: following rules. Rather than opposites, like extroversion and introversion, and
conceptualizing morals or ethics as some form of a ratings scale will determine which trait a person
a priori knowledge, behavior analysts explain exhibits. For the radical behaviorist, however, a
morality and ethics in the context of rule- trait is considered a general description of contin-
governed behavior; that is, behavior that is con- gencies that cause behavior (Moore 2015).
trolled and maintained by verbal or private self-
imposed rules or instructions rather than the
direct-acting contingencies and programmed con- Treatment of Personality Disorders
sequences that govern other behavior (Pelez
2001). In other words, rule-governed behavior is The behavioral perspective for the treatment of a
not maintained by the direct consequences of personality disorder begins with the examination
engaging or not engaging in the behavior, but of the possible factors that have contributed to the
rather, these responses are maintained by the con- development of the condition. This will include a
sequences following compliance with the rules careful examination of the controlling functional
that are established related to the behaviors. For relationships between the observed behaviors and
Behavioral Perspectives on Personality 9

the contextual eld of variables that surround Next the behaviorist explores the conse-
them. Such variables will include the clients quences that follow from Johns avoidance behav-
motivation levels and how they are increased or ior. Any context in which John must engage in
decreased via the exhibition of certain behaviors verbal behavior in the presence of other individ-
to produce consequences from the social commu- uals is generally paired with aversive conse-
nity. Next, the behaviorist will seek to understand quences, but this does not necessarily mean that
how language (in the form of rules delivered by all of the behaviors in which John has engaged in
others or crafted by the client) governs their similar contexts have contacted aversive conse-
behavior patterns in maladaptive ways. Further- quences. Rather, it is more likely that verbal
more, when such rules are temporally paired with behavior specically has not contacted sufcient
what is irrationally deduced as casual accomplish- reinforcement to compete with the aversive con-
ments of success, they become even more detri- sequences (or lack of reinforcement) paired with
mental to the client. In order to improve the these behaviors, thus reducing the likelihood that
human condition of a client by altering their per- John will engage in these behaviors in this con-
sonality, a rich series of alternative positive con- text. Consequently, John likely established a rule
sequences will need to be contacted by the that he will always become anxious when he is
individual. Initially these consequences may be forced to speak in public. As previously men-
contrived, but for long-term successful change to tioned, the source of reinforcement associated
occur, the natural environment must sustain these with rule-governed behavior is compliance with
changes in behavior. the rule; therefore, Johns self-imposed rule may
To illustrate this change process, let us exam- be comprised of the statements: If I speak in front
ine the behavior of an introverted graduate student of a large crowd, I will encounter signicant anx-
named John who is fearful of speaking in iety. However, if I do not speak in front of a large
public. John has reported anxiety of public speak- crowd, then I will avoid this anxiety. Now, if
ing, large crowds, and any event that results in John must speak in front of a crowd and experi-
others paying him close attention. As a result, ences anxiety, then the rst statement of the rule
John has avoided these experiences as much as has contacted a direct-acting contingency and
possible. He never speaks up in classes, reluc- now lends further credibility to the validity of
tantly presents his work when required, and the rule, increasing the probability that John will
never volunteers for any speaking opportunities continue avoiding such contexts. If John avoids
at professional meetings. John is worried that he speaking to crowds and does not experience anx-
may never succeed in his long-term plan of iety, then the second statement of the rule has been
becoming a professor because he knows he will reinforced through adherence to the rule, and the
eventually need to lecture to students and also validity and reliability of the rules if/then state-
present research at conferences in front his peers. ment has increased. Unfortunately for John,
Additionally, a history of antianxiety medication adherence to such rules is maladaptive if John is
has left John with decreased social interest, and to continue a career in academia, as such contexts
thus he has not had a romantic relationship in will likely remain aversive and Johns verbal rep-
many years. ertoire associated with such situations will not
The behaviorist seeking to alter Johns anxious increase in complexity.
personality begins by unpacking the motivation Finally, to treat the anxiety associated with
behind what is sustaining Johns disengagement Johns public speaking, the behaviorist could
from the social community. If anxiety occurs work with John to systematically decrease the
under a set of predictable conditions (speaking in aversive stimuli and tap into naturally occurring
public, large crowds), it seems rationale for John reinforcement that occurs with learning a new
to avoid these events. John is motivated to avoid skill. John begins to speak in front of small groups
or reduce his anxiety and seeks a variety of ways of people and then gradually speaks in front of
of behaving to do so. larger groups of people, experiencing less anxiety
10 Behavioral Perspectives on Personality

and subsequently becoming more successful in remain a descriptive summary of observation

the future through the subsequent improvement and not a causal agent, as the latter limits the
in his skills associated with verbal behavior in the basic assumptions of human behavior as a natural
presence of many individuals. A new rule is science. The functional approach to human
established that the momentary discomfort asso- behavior continues to offer tangible solutions to
ciated with public speaking is worth the delayed many societal problems and has made inroads into
benet of mastering a new skill and establishing a less traditional applications, such as depression,
successful career in academia. anxiety, and self-control. New treatments, such as
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is
grounded in the foundations of behavior analysis,
Conclusion offer exciting new frontiers in the study of human
behavior (Hayes et al. 1999).
The behavioral perspective of personality and
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