Eric Carlson

Eric Carlson

Department Faculty
  • Associate Professor
    ABA Program

  • The Chicago School Los Angeles
Applied Behavior Analysis
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
Office Location
Office Phone
On-campus Ext.

I am a California Central Coast native who lived in Massachusetts during most of my years of formal academic instruction. Accidental exposure in my teens to two schools of thought had lasting impacts on my life. I discovered and began religiously reading evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould’s monthly articles in Natural History magazine about evolution and selectionist thinking.  These articles gradually persuaded me that Darwin “got it right”.  Concurrently, I accidentally swallowed a copy of B.F. Skinner’s fictional novel of a utopian community, Walden Two, in which problems of human conduct and of sustainably “living the good life” were addressed through experimental application of effective education and contingency management.  Subsequent exposure to Skinner’s writings persuaded me that his behavior analytic and selectionist explanatory system was fundamentally sufficient to account for complex human behavior.  This provided me with two exemplars, one in phylogeny and one in ontogeny, in which a selectionist approach appeared sufficient to explain the marvelous genetic and behavioral diversity that we have here on our planet today. This largely controlled my subsequent academic pursuits in higher education where I was quite fortunate to have outstanding behavior analysts guide my formal academic training in applied behavior analysis and behavioral biology. My undergraduate advisor was Dr. Beth Sulzer-Azaroff, at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, who supported and guided my conceptual focus on the applications of behavior analysis to the manned space program. The resulting senior honors thesis proposed a series of temporally extended behavioral experiments with human volunteers in a confined micro-society, specifically, in the multi-operant human laboratory, housed in the Phipps Clinic at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Modified versions of these experiments were eventually conducted by Dr. Joe Brady, Director of the Division of Behavioral Biology at Johns Hopkins, under NASA funding auspices. My Master’s work, begun with Dr. Don Hake at West Virginia University and completed with Dr. Andy Lattal after Dr. Hake’s un-timely death, investigated factors affecting acquisition of discriminative control by response-dependent and response-independent events in pigeons. My doctoral work in behavioral economics analyzed some reinforcement contingencies controlling “savings” and “self-control-like” behavior of rats living in closed-economy, multi-operant environments, and was conducted under the guidance of Dr. John Donahoe, at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.

I taught experimental psychology at Mount Holyoke College and at Smith College, before returning to California to work as an experimental psychologist at Sonoma Developmental Center. I then directed a catch-up school for academically at-risk students in Southern California and subsequently worked with Kent Johnson and Joe Layng in Seattle and consulted to schools in the U.S. and Canada on the implementation of the Morningside Model of Generative Instruction. In 2001, I returned to the Central Coast where I provided behavior analysis consultation to schools and families. I have served two terms as Professional Standards Chair on the Board of Directors for CalABA.

My other interests include wilderness expedition kayaking , fresh- and salt-water fly fishing and fly tying, and contemplating the implications of the theory of island biogeography. I have completed numerous extended wilderness solo paddling expeditions and have also lead small groups of paddlers on extended wilderness kayaking trips through the Everglades and Florida Keys, along the coast of Maine, along the coral reefs of Belize, among the temperate rain forest islands of coastal British Columbia, and on both the Pacific and Sea of Cortez sides of Baja California. I am active supporter of various environmental conservation groups, including Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, NRDC, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Western Rivers Conservancy, 350.org,, and so on.

  • BA: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
  • MA: West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV
  • Ph.D.; University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst- Doctoral
Areas Of Expertise

Professional Memberships

  • Association for Behavior Analysis International 
  • California Association for Behavior Analysis 

Teaching Philosophy

Determinism is a valid, reasonable, and entirely necessary working assumption about the world if one wants to pursue either a science of learning or a technology of teaching. The deterministic view of a science of behavior is encapsulated in the phrase, “The organism is always right.” In moving from non-human animals to the human kind, and in classroom teaching, we use the more politically acceptable equivalent phrase: “The learner is always right.” The corollary is that one may, to some extent, control the behavior of organisms by controlling their environmental learning history. Teaching is the act of providing a carefully arranged, specified bit of learning history to produce a reliable or predictable environment-behavior relation. In teaching, this deterministic and technological perspective may be summarized: “If the learner isn’t learning, then the teacher isn’t teaching.” This implies that effective instruction is a technologically tractable design and delivery problem. The task of instructional design and delivery is to establish reliable environment-behavior relations that will be likely to permit a learner to behave more effectively in similar environments in the future. The function of formal education is to transmit the most effective cultural practices to the next generation. 

I went into behavior analysis because it appeared to offer the best hope for moving beyond the punitive society, and for increasing sustainable human cultural practices that might be expected to leave a, genetically diverse, and reasonably intact biosphere for subsequent generations, without resorting to draconian measures.