Robert C. Mellon, Ph.D., BCBA, obtained his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1987, where he completed both the clinical psychology and experimental analysis of behavior programs. He was clinical psychology intern at New York University Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital, and was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Developmental Psychobiology of the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he studied Pavlovian conditioning processes in the development of intersensory functions. Then on a National Research Service Award from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, Mellon studied animal timing processes at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University. He taught for the University of Maryland, travelling in Asia, the Middle East and Europe and seeking a culture in which behavior analysis was either unknown or underdeveloped, in which he might have an opportunity to establish a research and training program. In 1995 he found such a circumstance in the Hellenic Republic, where he has worked ever since and is currently professor at Panteion University in Athens. In this position, he has chaired the Department of Psychology and established a productive laboratory as well a seven-semester cycle of undergraduate courses in experimental and applied behavior analysis. Mellon’s current research interests include behavioral variability, resistance to change, adventitious reinforcement and aversive control, and the implications of these processes in understanding the provenance and treatment of psychopathology; he has also authored a comprehensive Hellenic-language textbook in behavioral philosophy and its basic and applied sciences. Mellon has served as president of the European Association for Behavior Analysis and is founding president of the Hellenic Community for Behavior Analysis.

Presenting at the Bucharest International ABA Conference:

Compulsive checking, perfectionism, and aversive control

Robert C. Mellon, Ph.D., BCBA

Laboratory of Experimental and Applied Behavior Analysis, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens

Behavior patterns described by clinicians as obsessive, compulsive, or perfectionistic are characterized by a level of watchfulness concerning warning signals for aversive events that problematically displaces the pursuit of significant positive reinforcers. Such hyperbolic vigilance is operant behavior—its frequency of occurrence in a given context is determined by events that have differentially followed upon its emission in similar contexts in the past. By definition, acts such as scrutinizing and double-checking one’s own work or comportment for inexactitude or impropriety occur at a time when potential errors or improprieties are not yet perceived; so what events occasion them? And what might be the reinforcing events that maintain the extraordinary emission frequency of such behavior patterns, despite the pernicious effects of excessive prudence?

In evaluative environments such as schools or places of work, we frequently judge whether or not the stimulus products of our own behavior conform to the prevailing contingencies of reinforcement and punishment before exposing the results of our efforts to public scrutiny. In the familiar form of an operant chain, the stimuli automatically produced by the act of checking for errors can provide a differential context for the reinforcement or punishment of the terminal act of submitting or exposing the products of our behavior. To the extent that submissions occurring after checking for errors in the products of previous links of the chain tend to be reinforced, while unevaluated submissions tend to be punished, the stimuli differentially produced by the act of checking would acquire conditional positive reinforcing potency as SDs for reinforced submission. At the same time, stimulus events differentially associated with unchecked or hasty submission would acquire conditional negative reinforcing potency as well as the power to evoke (as SDs) the emission of behaviors that have terminated such self-produced threats of punishment in the past—namely, the power to evoke checking for unsuitable productions.

This presentation will provide experimental support for this interpretation of the determination of problematically high (as well as problematically low) levels of vigilance for errors, missteps and improprieties in our own behavior, as well as its implications for clinical case formulation and the effective design of therapeutic and prophylactic interventions for these and related conditions.

See the program