Operant Contingencies and the Origin of Cultures

  • Sigrid S. Glenn


Writers from a variety of disciplines recognize that culture is composed of or depends on behavior, but is also somehow more than an unorganized collection of behavioral events. Biologist Bonner (1980) defined culture as “behavior transmitted from one individual to another by teaching and learning” (p. 17). Cultural anthropologist Harris (1964) stated, “human behavior constitutes the cultural field of inquiry” (p. 20). However, human responses “are definitely not cultural things,” (Harris, p. 22) but rather are the empirical events to which scientific operations must be applied to arrive at cultural classifications. Behavior analyst Baum (2000) stated, “culture consists of behavior andchrw(133) cultural change constitutes an evolutionary process” (p. 182).


Cooperative Behavior Operant Behavior Operant Lineage Cultural Transmission Operant Contingency 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Andronis, P. (1983). Symbolic aggression by pigeons: Contingency adduction. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  2. Baum, W. M. (2000). Being concrete about culture and cultural evolution. In N. Thompson & F. Tonneau (Eds.), Perspectives in Ethology (Vol 13, pp. 181–212 ). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blackmore, S. (1999). The meme machine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bonner, J. T. (1980). The evolution of culture in animals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Catania, A. C. (1995). Selection in behavior and biology. In J. T. Todd & E. K. Morris (Eds). Modern perspectives on B. F. Skinner and contemporary behaviorism (pp. 185–194 ). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  6. Curio, E. V. & Vieth, W. (1978). Cultural transmission of enemy recognition: One function of mobbing. Science, 202, 899–901.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dawkins, R. (1976) . The selfish gene. Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  8. Donahoe, J. W. (1984). Commentary: Skinner-The Darwin of ontogeny? The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 7, 287–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Donahoe, J. W., & Palmer D. C. (1994). Learning and complex behavior. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  10. Epstein, R. (1985). The spontaneous interconnection of three repertoires. The Psychological Record 1985 35, 131–141Google Scholar
  11. Galef, B. G., Jr. (1988). Imitation in animals: History, definition, and interpretation of data from the psychological laboratory. In T. R. Zentall & B. G. Galef, Jr. (Eds.) Social learning: Psychological and biological perspectives. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  12. Glenn, S. S. (1986). Behavior: A gene for the social sciences. Poster presented at American Psychological Association convention. Washington, D. C.Google Scholar
  13. Glenn, S. S. (1988). Contingencies and metacontingencies: Toward a synthesis of behavior analysis and cultural materialism. The Behavior Analyst, 11, 161–179.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Glenn, S. S. & Malagodi, E. F. (1991). Process and content in behavioral and cultural phenomena. Behavior and Social Issues1 (2), 1–14. Google Scholar
  15. Glenn, S. S. (1991). Contingencies and metacontingencies: Relations among behavioral, cultural, and biological evolution, in P.A. Lamal (Ed). Behavioral analysis of societies and cultural practices. New York: Hemisphere Press (pp. 39–73 ).Google Scholar
  16. Glenn, S. S., Ellis, J., & Greenspoon, J. (1992). On the revolutionary nature of the operant as a unit of behavioral selection. American Psychologist 47, 1329–1336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hake, D. F., & Vukelich, R. (1973). Analysis of the control exerted by a complex cooperation procedure. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 19, 3–16.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harris, M. (1964). The nature of cultural things. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  19. Harris, M. (1989). Our kind. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  20. Hineline, P. N. (1992). A self-interpretive behavior analysis. American Psychologist 47 1274–1286 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hull, D. L. (1980). Individuality and selection. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 11, 311 – 332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hull, D. L., Longman, R. E., & Glenn, S. S. (2001). A general account of selection: Biology, immunology and behavior. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 51 1528.Google Scholar
  23. Kawai, M. (1965). Newly acquired pre-cultural behavior of the natural troop of Japanese monkeys on Koshima Islet. Primates, 67, 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kawamura, S. (1959). The process of sub-culture propagation among Japanese macaques. Primates, 2, 43–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lee, V. L. (1992). Transdermal interpretation of the subject matter of behavior analysis. American Psychologist, 47,1337–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mithaug, D. E. (1969). The development of cooperation in alternative task situations. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,8,441–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Maynard Smith, J. (1994). The major transitions in evolution. In G. Cowan, D. Pines, & D. Meltzer (Eds). Complexity: metaphors, models, and reality. SFI Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, Proc. Vol. XIX, Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  28. Meltzoff, A. N., & Moore, M. K. (1977). Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science, 198, 75–78.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Meltzoff, A. N. (1988). The human infant as Homo Imitans. In T. R. Zentall & B. G. Galef, Jr. (Eds.) Social learning: Psychological and biological perspectives. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  30. Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Skinner, B. F. (1981). Selection by consequences. Science, 213, 501–504.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Skinner, B. F. (1984). The evolution of behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 41, 217–221.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Skinner, B. E (1988). BFS commentary in canonical papers of B. F. Skinner: Selection by consequences. In A. C. Catania & S. Hamad (Eds.), The selection of behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. White, R. (1982). Rethinking the middle/upper paleolithic transition. Current Anthropology, 23, 169–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wilson, D. S. (1980). The natural selection of populations and communities. Menlo Park, CA: Benjam in Cummings.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sigrid S. Glenn
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Behavior AnalysisUniversity of North TexasDentonUSA

Personalised recommendations