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A critical assessment of Murray Sidman’s approach to coercion

Cesar Antonio Alves da Rocha, Maria Heleha Leite Hunziker


Murray Sidman’s Coercion and its fallout (1989) is a classic on the behaviorist perspective to social issues. The book provided an operational approach to complex behavioral phenomena, paving the way for behavior analysts to address a wide range of human affairs. Nevertheless, the equivalence established by Sidman between coercion and the use of punishment and negative reinforcement (i.e., aversive control) is tricky, given that the very idea of aversive control is a matter of controversy to this day. Therefore, although innovative, Sidman’s approach to coercion is also problematic, and demands reassessment. This article has three goals: 1) to present a short summary of Sidman’s approach to coercion, 2) to evaluate the problems with such an approach, and 3) to comment on an alternative approach to coercion in behavior analysis. Although critical of Sidman’s approach to coercion, we are aligned with his remarks on the self-correcting, ever-evolving character of scientific research – which is precisely why we argue for his approach to be reassessed from a critical viewpoint.

Keywords: Coercion, aversive control, punishment, Murray Sidman, social issues.


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Revista Brasileira de Análise do Comportamento/ Brazilian Journal of Behavior Analysis
ISSN 1807-8338 Versão Impressa / 2526-6551 Versão Eletrônica