versão ISSN 0188-8145
FERREIRA, Paulo R. S. e DE ROSE, Júlio C. C.. On the notion of response strength according to B. F. Skinner´s radical behaviorism. Acta comport. [online]. 2010, vol.18, n.3, pp. 381-411. ISSN 0188-8145.
This article is a theoretical investigation about the notion of an operant response strength, used by B. F. Skinner when he treats the behavior as an object of scientific study. According to the referred author, the notion of strength of a response represents the probability of occurrence of an operant response and consists in a fundamental datum to the behavioral analysis. The descriptions of the operant’s strength and the variables that determine it represent an essential task, under the responsibility of the behavioral analyst. Even so, it is not possible to directly observe the strength of a response, but it is possible to indirectly infer it from observable behavioral events. The strength of the response indicates the possibility of a specific response to occur, among other possible responses available in the same behavioral repertoire. The description of the force is made through an analysis procedure that consists in the identification of a particular form of response and the corresponding relations of probability with its independent variables. Skinner named these probability relations as functional units, which can be also understood as a representation of the kind of functional relation that is established between a class of discriminative stimuli and a class of operant responses. The functional unit is the behavior itself, put under investigation in order to find out its determinant variables, which are capable of modify its strength. The emotional and motivational operations and the reinforcing stimuli define, in addition to the class of discriminative stimuli, the strength of the operant response too. All these independent variables can strengthen or weaken a specific form of response, or, what’s equivalent, increase or decrease the operant strength of the behavior. Therefore, the strength of the operant response is, also, a way to group the variety of different effects that the independent variables have on the probability of occurrence of the type of response on focus. That is the reason why there is an increasing emphasis on the notion of response strength and, specially, on the notion of strengthening and weakening in the Skinner’s paperworks concerning the multiple causality of operant behavior. In this matter, it is standed out the distinction between the different ways in which a variety of independent variables present themselves when affecting the strength of the operant response. At this point, the effects of discriminative stimuli and reinforcing stimuli on the strength of the response are distinguished. It is also illustrated how the type of inference involved in what Skinner called cumulative record brings important implications to his constant search of a interpretative system that combines, simultaneously, theoretical precision and pragmatic effectiveness on the interventions derived from his propositions. Finally, it is shown that the notion of operant response’s strength is fundamental to the characterization of the behavior as a continuous phenomenon, which can be called behavioral stream, putting the behavioral analysis away from an elementarist or associationist psychological perspective.
Palavras-chave : response strength; operant behavior; behavioral analysis; radical behaviorism; behavioral stream.