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Distinguishing Units of Analysis, Procedures, and Processes in Cultural Selection: Notes on Metacontingency Terminology

  • Fábio Henrique BaiaEmail author
  • Angelo A. S. Sampaio
Article

Abstract

The concept of metacontingency has been used to understand cultural selection and how organisms behave in groups. Despite constant refinements to its definition, the term has still been used to describe either a unit of analysis, a procedure, or even one or more processes. Based mainly on experimental studies, this paper clarifies those elements and proposes terms to deal with them. The culturant is the unit of analysis typically employed in experiments on this matter, and it is fundamental to differentiate descriptive culturants (interlocking behavioral contingencies defined by their environmental effect, i.e., their aggregate product) and functional culturants (classes of interlocking behavioral contingencies under control of cultural consequences). We argue that the term metacontingency should refer to the procedure of arranging a conditional relation between a culturant and a cultural consequence. The processes of cultural selection can be defined based on the effect of environmental events (e.g., cultural consequences) on characteristics (e.g., frequency) of the culturant and can be directly described as changes in culturants (e.g., culturant increase and culturant decrease). This terminology can improve conceptual precision in the area of cultural selection and facilitate clear communication in interpretative or quasi-experimental studies.

Keywords

Metacontingency Culturant Unit of analysis Cultural evolution Reinforcement 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Fábio Henrique Baia would like to thank Universidade de Rio Verde, which supported this project through a Bolsa Pesquisador 3 grant. Both authors contributed equally to the preparation of this paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the authors.

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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratório de Psicologia Experimental (LAPEX), Fazendas Fontes do SaberUniversidade de Rio VerdeRio VerdeBrazil
  2. 2.Colegiado de PsicologiaUniversidade Federal do Vale do São Francisco (Univasf)PetrolinaBrazil

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