How Does Buddhism Relate to Behavior Analysis?


Recently, I started reading Jack Kornfield's Buddhism for Beginners.  As I listened to the tenets of Buddhism, I began to realize that there were many similarities between the science of behavior analysis and Buddhism, and after doing some research, I found I was not the only one who also held this opinion.

Hayes (2002) and Diller & Lattal (2008) also wrote articles outlining the similarities between the science of behavior analysis and Buddhism.  

So what are they?  Diller & Lattal (2008), wrote in their article, "Behaviorism and Buddhism: Complimentarities and Conflicts," that there appear to be many "complimentarities" between the two.  They argue that with Buddhism, there is the idea that the individual is connected with their environment just as in behavior analysis we look at the learner also being interactive with their environment.  Buddhism emphasizes the goal of gaining knowledge then applying that knowledge to generalize societal improvement.  As B.F. Skinner wrote in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, as he discusses the need to make socially significant behavioral change through our science, "What we need is a technology of behavior to prevent the catastrophe which the world seems to be inexorably moving,"

Steven Hayes (2002), also discusses in his article "Buddhisn and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy," that the empirically validated "third wave" behavior therapy Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Hayes, 2004) and Buddhism have many parallels, the main being looking at the behavioral characteristics of the human attachment to suffering.  In Buddhism, Kornfield argues that it is a part of life, but it is through the awareness of it and the compassion towards others we can free ourselves from the attachment of suffering.  In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, this comes in the form of cognitive defusion  or becoming unentangled from our thoughts and feelings (Hayes, 2004), yet still acknowledging that they are present.  This, Hayes argues, provides a scientific grounding for the practices of Buddhism.



Diller, J.W., Lattal, K. (2008). Radical behaviorism and Buddhism: complementarities and conflicts.  The Behavior Analyst, 31(2), 163-177

Hayes, S. C. (2004). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Relational Frame Theory, and the third wave of behavior therapy. Behavior Therapy, 35, 639-665.

Hayes, S.C (2002). Buddhism and acceptance and commitment therapy. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 9(1) 58-66

Kornfield, Jack (2001). Buddhism for Beginners

Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond freedom and dignity.


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