Units of Interaction, Evolution, and Replication: Organic and Behavioral Parallels

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Behavior Analyst






Association for Behavior Analysis International

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Organic and behavioral evolution both involve variation, selection, and replication with retention; but the individuals involved in these processes differ in the two kinds of evolution. In this paper, biological units of evolution, selection, and retention are compared with analogous units at the behavioral level. In organic evolution, natural selection operates on variations among organisms within a species, with the result of preserving in future generations of organisms those heritable characteristics that contributed to the organism's survival and reproduction. Species evolve as characteristics of the population change as a result of past selection. Continuity in a lineage in the biosphere is maintained by replication of genes with retention of organismic characteristics across successive generations of organisms. In behavioral evolution, reinforcement operates on variations among responses within an operant, with the result of preserving in future responses those characteristics that resulted in reinforcement. Continuity in a behavioral lineage, within the repertoire of a given organism, appears to involve retention and replication, but the unit of retention and replication is unknown. We suggest that the locus of retention and replication is the nervous system of the behaving organism.


Originally published by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI). Publisher's PDF and article fulltext available through remote link via PubMed Central. This article appeared in the Behavior Analyst.
Note: Gregory Madden was affiliated with the University of North Texas at time of publication.