SIG Spotlight: History of Behavior Analysis

“Our aim is to advance behavior analysis nationally and internationally through its history and historiography. Our mission is to cultivate and nurture, enrich and improve, and disseminate the field’s history and historiography.”

Edward K. Morris

The History of Behavior Analysis (HoBA) Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) was founded in 2011. Our listserv was established in 2012. Our first business meeting was held at the 2013 ABAI convention and has been held there annually since then, except during the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and ABA’s virtual meetings. As of April 2021, we have 272 members, an increase of 11 members from 2019. Our membership is stable. To join the SIG, log onto the HoBA website ( or contact Pat Williams (University of Houston-Downtown) at

Aim, Mission, Objectives, Purview, and Audience
Our aim is to advance behavior analysis nationally and internationally through its history and historiography. Our mission is to cultivate and nurture, enrich and improve, and disseminate the field’s history and historiography. Our objectives are to enhance teaching (course content and pedagogy); research (presentations, publications, and workshops); and service (leadership, governance, and communications). Our purview is the field’s long past, short history, and recent origins. Our audience includes behavior analysts, other scientists and humanists, and the public at large.

Reasons and Rationales
Jack Michael (2004) offered the following reasons and rationales for teaching, researching, and serving the field’s history and historiography:

“Students of behavior analysis who know little of its history will be less than optimally effective in acquiring new knowledge. They will also be unaware of relations among various parts of their professional and scientific repertoires. In short, it is important to know where we came from.” (p. 93)

More specifically, the history and historiography of behavior analysis place the discipline, its sub-disciplines, and its practices in relation to each other. The field has breadth and depth beyond any one of them. Its history and historiography reveal the interdependence of the field’s system, its sciences, and its practices. The field is more than the sum of its parts. Its history and historiography also address the field’s relation to other sciences and the humanities. he field is defined, in part, by its comparisons and contrasts with them.

History and historiography also have more general rationales. The Roman philosopher Marcus Tillius Cicero (106–43 BCE) offered among the first: “Those who know only their own generation remain children forever.” Perhaps the most common is attributed to the Spanish-American philosopher, George Santayana (1863–1952): “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (Santayana, 1905). Another is based on an observation by the American writer and humorist, Mark Twain (1835–1910), about travel—but here “History”—in The Innocents Abroad:

“[History] is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” (Twain, 1869, p. 243).

Farrington (1949) summarizes these and other rationales in almost a behavior-analytic idiom:

History is the most fundamental science for there is no human knowledge which cannot lose its scientific character when men forget the conditioning under which it originated, the questions which it answered, and the function it was created to serve. A great part of the mysticism and superstition of educated men consist of knowledge which has broken base from its historical moorings. (p. 173; see also Coleman, 1995)

Our membership is open to anyone interested in the history and historiography of behavior analysis. This includes members of (a) ABAI; (b) members of other behavior-analytic organizations, including Division 25 for Behavior Analysis of the American Psychological Association (APA), the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, and the B. F. Skinner Foundation; (c) members of organizations outside of behavior analysis, including APA Division 26 for the Society for the History of Psychology, the International Society for the History of the Behavioral Sciences (aka Cheiron), and the History of Science Society; and (d) independent scholars. The SIG’s members need not be members of ABAI. Joining the HoBA listserv is the same as joining the SIG and vice versa. We have no membership fees.

At present, our governance consists of a founding president, Edward K. Morris (University of Kansas); vice-president, Karen Wagner (Behavior Service of Brevard, FL); secretary-treasurer, Todd McKerchar (Jacksonville State University, AL); and listserv owner and moderator, Pat Williams (University of Houston-Downtown). The near-future of the HoBA SIG is to broaden its leadership and governance (see below).

Business Meeting
Our main activities have been hosting a ListServ for our members (n ~ 272), a website (, and an annual business meeting at the ABAI conference. To summarize the minutes of the 2019 meeting:

  • Despite the size of the SIG’s membership, attendance at the business meetings has been modest the last several years (e.g., Crone-Todd, Morris, McKerchar, Wagner, and n ~8 members), compared to earlier years (n ~20-25).
  • The low attendance probably reflects the SIG’s lack of engagement with its members other than through its Listserv. The SIG’s activities have not changed since its founding – and neither has its leadership.

The SIG leadership and the audience have discussed changes in the SIG’s structure and functions, the most fundamental of which would be to establish by-laws. This would:

  • Formalize the SIG’s structure (e.g., governance, Executive Council)
  • Expand the SIG’s purview (e.g., committees, positions)
  • Set a calendar for elections and the succession of leadership (e.g., positions, voting, terms)

In expanding the SIG’s purview, the leadership and audience considered, further, the functions the SIG could address, in part, through a committee structure. This might include a membership committee (e.g., growth, diversity), finance committee (e.g., dues, donations, IRS status), website committee (e.g., management, communications), publications committee (e.g., a newsletter), program committee (e.g., conference posters, papers, symposia), education committee (e.g., syllabus bank), dissemination committee (e.g., bibliographies, a YouTube directory), archival committee (e.g., listing and promoting archives), and an awards committee (e.g., for the best annual HoBA presentation or publication).

Goals 2021
The SIG’s goals this year are to establish By-Laws and a committee structure. Drafts of the By-Laws will be developed, circulated, and revised by the current EC before the May 2022 Business Meeting at ABAI. At the Business Meeting, the members present will vote on it. If approved, the EC will establish an election cycle and begin assigning HoBA members as committee chairs and members. The future of history in ABAI looks bright.

Coleman, S. R. (1995). The varied usefulness of history, with specific reference to behavior analysis. In J. T. Todd & E. K. Morris (Eds.), Modern Perspectives on B. F. Skinner and Radical Behaviorism (pp. 129-147). Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Farrington, B. (1949). Greek Science, Its Meaning for Us, Volume 2: Theophrastus to Galen. New York: Penguin.

Michael, J. (2004). Historical antecedents of behavior analysis. In J. Michael (Ed.), Concepts and Principles of Behavior Analysis and Verbal Behavior (pp. 93–104). Kalamazoo, MI: Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis.

Santayana, G. (1905). Reason in common sense. In G. Santayana (2005-2006), The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress (Vol. 1). New York: Scribner’s.

Twain, M. (1869). The Innocents Abroad. Hartford, CT: American Publishing.

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