Charles Catania, PhD
Interview conducted by Annie Galizio
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Dr. Catania was originally considering a math major at Columbia when he took Fred Keller’s introductory course in his sophomore year. The first semester consisted a rat lab. The second semester was a human behavior lab and included the shaping of verbal behavior. In his junior year, he took Nat Schoenfeld’s experimental psychology sequence, which included psychophysics and sensory psychology in the Fall semester and rat experiments in the Spring semester. In his senior year he became a TA for Schoenfeld’s course and also participated in a seminar on verbal behavior taught by Keller, Schoenfeld and Hefferline. The class read and discussed Skinner’s William James Lectures and the book, “Verbal Behavior,” which was derived from those lectures. By that point a career in behavior analysis seemed inevitable. Dr. Catania took a masters degree at Columbia and then went to the Experimental Psychology program at Harvard. After completing his Ph.D., he served as a postdoc and ran Skinner’s pigeon lab.
He worked for two years in psychopharmacology at the Smith, Kline and French Las in Philadelphia before he found an academic position at the University Heights campus of NYU. While there he became editor of JEAB, ran a research lab, began to develop a curriculum in learning, and eventually became department chair. He moved to UMBC after NYU sold the University Heights because of financial difficulties. There he continued his research, teaching and writing, especially with his colleague, Eliot Shimoff, who had also been a Schoenfeld student. In 1999 in collaboration with colleagues at the Kennedy-Krieger Institute of Johns Hopkins he was co-founder of the ABA Master’s track at UMBC.
What do you feel is your most important accomplishment and why?
Dr. Catania’s accomplishments included the cofounding of the ABA Master’s program at UMBC, doing applied research on breast self-examination with Hank Pennypacker, editing (with Stevan Harnad) the special issue of the Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted to classic papers by B. F. Skinner, developing the implications of behavior analysis for the evolution of verbal behavior, getting Fred Keller’s autobiography edited and published, and exploring parallels between inhibition in biological systems and interactions in behavioral ones.
What do you think behavior analysts should be doing more of?
“We need to find more and better ways to educate the general public about our science.”
What advice do you have for people just entering the field of behavior analysis?
“Go into this field because you love the science of behavior, and not for other reasons. Read Skinner’s “Flight from the laboratory” for more details; you’ll find it in Skinner’s collection of papers, Cumulative Record, a book that every serious behavior analyst should own. It is available at a bargain price from the B. F. Skinner Foundation.”