Andy Lattal, PhD

Interview conducted by Michelle Nelson

How were you drawn to the field of behavior analysis?

At the beginning of my junior year of college, I took a course in comparative psychology that was taught by Steve Kendall, who at the time was already well-known for his work on observing responses of pigeons. Steve was supposed to teach us comparative, but most of the course was behavior analysis. I got interested in his presentation of Joe Brady’s work on the “executive monkeys” who developed ulcers during periods of timeout from avoidance, went to his office to talk to him about it, and the next semester I was running pigeons. I was hooked from the first time I heard about the experimental analysis of behavior, and it has been among my greatest pleasures ever since.

What do you feel is your most important accomplishment and why?

I am most proud of the 43 doctoral students I have trained, and the numerous sabbatical visitors who have spent time working with me. These people are the future of our field, and the more we give them early in their careers, the better off all of us who call ourselves behavior analysts will be as they move into positions of leadership in scientific inquiry and practice.

What do you think behavior analysts should be doing more of?

Basic research. We know so little and there are so many basic problems that can be contributing to both our understanding of behavior and our helping solve everyday problems of living – at all levels, from the individual to the culture. Our basic research is lagging behind because we have fewer and fewer people taking it up as their career path. I see this particularly when talking with students about research and we realize that even some of the most basic questions about many behavioral phenomena remain unanswered. This makes it clear to me that we just don’t have enough people pursuing these questions.  Basic research isn’t a choice, it addresses the most central issues that concern behavior analysts of all types. We should all be concerned about the dwindling support in terms of the psychology departments that traditionally have housed basic researchers; decreasing funding for animal research in universities because of the costs, and the politics; and the appeal of immediate application of what we already know at the expense of the long-term advantages of channeling more of our human resources to exploring basic behavioral processes.

What advice do you have for people just entering the field of behavior analysis?

Let your data be your guide. Focus on things that interest you, but keep an eye on the larger world. By larger world I mean both problems in behavior analysis outside your immediate interests, for sure, but also the world outside behavior analysis: psychology, of course, but also read broadly to help you see how our science fits into and can contribute from everything to literature, art, and music to building better mousetraps.