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The Mechner Foundation

The main interests and pursuits of the Foundation are the behavioral sciences and their varied applications to the human condition, the environment, and the arts.  In pursuit of these ends, the Foundation disseminates theory, publishes papers, conducts courses and seminars, encourages dialogue among different disciplines, and supports research through collaborative relationships with other institutions.

The Formal Symbolic Language for Analyzing Behavioral Contingencies
A major current project of the Foundation's is the application of a formal symbolic language for the analysis of behavioral contingencies across a wide range of human affairs, including economics, environmentally impactful activity, finance, business, education, public policy, health, and clinical psychology.  This formal language is an adaptation and generalization of the contingency language introduced in 1959 (Mechner, 1959, The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 2, 133-150), which codifies behavioral contingencies unambiguously and with precision.  The more recent generalized version of this language can be used to analyze and diagram all types of behavioral contingencies, including complex and dynamic ones involving multiple parties.  It has uses in the specification of experimental procedures, analysis of various types of social interaction dynamics, economics, and law.  The principal publications that explain the uses of the language can be downloaded from this website.

Individualized Education
Another major current project is a demonstration that individualized education, with students taking responsibility for their achievement of learning objectives, can be provided economically with a 5:1 student-teacher ratio.  In 2009 the Foundation, building on the model of the Paideia School which Dr. Mechner operated from 1969 to 1974 in Armonk, New York, established the Queens Paideia School to provide a convincing demonstration that this educational approach instills a long-term love of learning that produces self-directed and self-motivated lifetime learners.

Basic Research
Over the years, the Foundation has conducted and supported basic research in various areas of behavioral science including the role of reinforcement in behavioral shaping, how certain learning history factors affect resurgence, conditions that produce resurgence or novel behavior, and other basic issues related to learning and performance.  Mechner and the Foundation publish their work in appropriate journals and additionally make some of their publications available as downloads on the present website.

Skilled Performance and Resurgence
Several of the Foundation's basic research projects are relevant to learning and practicing any type of skilled performance. The phenomenon of resurgence in particular may be basic to an understanding of how performance errors are related to the way a performance was originally learned and practiced. Performance mistakes and undesirable behavior patterns that occur under certain conditions during skilled performance, especially conditions of stress, are often due to resurgence and regression. The significance of this mechanism is explained and developed in the download Learning and Practicing Skilled Performance.

The Revealed Operant
The revealed operant is a research preparation that permits certain characteristics of any individual occurrence of an operant to be conveniently recorded and studied. It is defined as a unit of operant behavior that is initiated and terminated by a recorded behavioral event (see the monograph The Revealed Operant: A Way to Study the Characteristics of Individual Occurrences of Operant Responses). Techniques currently used to study revealed operants include lines drawn on a drawing tablet and sequences of keystrokes on a computer keyboard.

The Foundation has used the revealed operant technique in experimental studies on the effects of single reinforcer presentations on a stream of operant behavior. Research questions addressed include the role of an operant's history on the effects of reinforcer presentations, and the subject's history with respect to the reinforcer. Another major area of basic research by the foundation is the role of reinforcement in behavior shaping, the issue being whether reinforcer presentations produce a repetition of the preceding behavior or a perpetuation of its most recent direction of change.

The Power Measure of Skill and Knowledge
Skill and knowledge, as evidenced in strategy games and other areas, are normally assessed by means of performance scores and practical results. The limitation of this type of assessment is that it can be confounded by emotional factors, lapses of concentration or attention, and stamina. The purpose of the proposed system, described in the book review of Blindfold Chess by Hearst and Knott,  is to provide a clean and general "power" measure of any type of knowledge and skill, in fields other than games -- one that provides a measure of the individual's level of uncertainty, in the information theory meaning of that term, and the speed with which the uncertainty is resolved.  The review also compares seeing and visualizing in a novel way.

Other Projects
In 2000, the Foundation helped launch the Blacksmith Institute, which has since performed hundreds of toxic waste cleanup projects throughout the world. 
Another major project of the Foundation is its endeavor to bring the life's work of the painter Solomon Lerner (1895-1953) to the attention of the art world. This project involves locating and photographing Lerner's paintings, which are scattered throughout the western world including Israel, the United States, Cuba, France, Germany, and Romania, and then publishing reproductions of those paintings along with biographical material about Lerner.