A Neurobiological-Behavioral Approach to Predicting and Influencing Private Events

James N. Meindl, Jonathan W. Ivy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The primary goals of behavior analysis are the prediction and influence of behavior. These goals are largely achieved through the identification of functional relations between behaviors and the stimulating environment. Behavior–behavior relations are insufficient to meet these goals. Although this environment–behavior approach has been highly successful when applied to public behaviors, extensions to private events have been limited. This article discusses technical and conceptual challenges to the study of private events. We introduce a neurobiological-behavioral approach which seeks to understand private behavior as environmentally controlled in part by private neurobiological stimuli. These stimuli may enter into functional relations with both public and private behaviors. The analysis builds upon several current approaches to private events, delineates private behaviors and private stimulation, and emphasizes the reciprocal interaction between the two. By doing so, this approach can improve treatment and assessment of behavior and advance understanding of concepts such as motivating operations. We then describe the array of stimulus functions that neurobiological stimuli may acquire, including eliciting, discriminative, motivating, reinforcing, and punishing effects, and describe how the overall approach expands the concept of contextual influence. Finally, we describe how advances in behavioral neuroscience that enable the measurement and analysis of private behaviors and stimuli are allowing these once private events to affect the public world. Applications in the area of human–computer interfaces are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-429
Number of pages21
JournalPerspectives on Behavior Science
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology

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