Controlling and Predicting Unpredictable Behavior



Lourenço de Souza Barba

The Behavior Analyst

September 2014



Behaving predictably can be advantageous in some situations, but unpredictability can also be advantageous in some competitive situations like sports, games, and war. Can, however, unpredictable behavior be conditioned? If a contingency of reinforcement based upon the predictability of behavior generates unpredictable responding, is it possible to conclude that predictability is itself a reinforceable dimension of behavior? In this paper, I address these questions by examining the concept and measures of predictability and the procedures generally used to increase unpredictable responding. I discuss the hypothesis that contingencies based on response frequency shape the generalized operant “to vary” and an alternative hypothesis that such contingencies generate unpredictable responding by balancing the strength of each alternative response over time. I discuss the findings that support the balance hypothesis as well as its limitations. I conclude that the two alternative hypotheses may be complementary in explaining unpredictable responding.





Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee