Dead Man Test: What It Is, Functions, Advantages And Disadvantages

dead man's test

In behavioral analysis, the dead man’s test is a very interesting test to use when determining the behaviors to evaluate during the observation.

The main idea of ​​the test is that any behavior that a dead person can also “perform” is not advisable to consider as such, since in itself it would not be a significant action.

This test has had its pros and cons, but apart from them, it is still a curious way of establishing what behaviors to evaluate when conducting research or analyzing the behavior of an individual. Let’s go into a little more detail.

What is the Dead Man’s Test?

The Dead Man Test is an idea that has been used to try to distinguish between objectively measurable and observable behavior from that which is not. This test has been used on many occasions as a criterion to establish which behaviors should be analyzed when evaluating the behavior of an individual, whether person or animal, within the framework of behavior analysis. Its main use is to determine whether or not a certain action can be considered a behavior

This idea was developed by Ogden Lindsley in 1965, who said that if a dead person can perform a certain behavior, then it is not really a behavior. The idea is that, taking into account that only living organisms have the ability to emit behaviors, Anything we call behavior has to pass the dead man’s test and, therefore, cannot be emitted by an inert being

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Application in the world of education

We are going to try to better understand this curious idea by associating it with the reason for its creation. The Dead Man test was conceptualized at a time when research in the educational field had a serious problem when analyzing student behavior. Many teachers used very lax criteria to determine the ideal behavior of their students criteria that included something that we could well call “non-conduct.”

Among the aspects that the teachers evaluated were: for example, how long their students were quiet or if they didn’t throw a tantrum. Although evaluating these “behaviors” was convenient, it did not provide significant data on whether they were really learning, nor could they be considered behaviors that promoted learning, as would evaluating the degree of student involvement in the task or how motivated they were. to ask the teacher.

These two behaviors, that is, not throwing a tantrum and staying still at the desk, They wouldn’t pass the dead man’s test because, basically, a dead person can “do them.” The corpses are still and do not make a fuss, so wanting the children in a classroom to behave like that would be the same as wanting them to behave as if they were dead.

What is behavior?

Example of application of this test

Without leaving the educational field, we can give an example of the application of the dead man’s test but a little more current and quite common within the analysis of behavior.

If we define “non-compliance” as the failure to complete and obey certain demands within a period of time, applying the test we would have to ask ourselves the following question:

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“Can a dead person fail to meet a demand?”

The answer to this question is clearly yes. The dead person does nothing, so he will fail any request we ask of him. Taking into account that this definition of non-compliance does not pass the dead man’s test, it is necessary to consider a new conduct to evaluate

In this specific case, instead of talking about non-compliance, we could evaluate the individual’s rejection of the task that has been asked of him, defining “rejection” as the act of responding with a resounding no to a certain request. Here we can ask ourselves the following question:

“Can a dead person respond with a resounding no to a certain request?”

The answer in this case is, obviously, no. A dead person does not have the ability to speak or actively reject anything, so rejection is a behavior because it has passed the dead man test.

Weaknesses of this test

Although at first it was quite accepted, considering it a good criterion to clearly establish the line that separated behavior from that which could not be considered, Today it is not considered a definitive test of what is behavior and what is not Furthermore, although it was conceptualized during the 1960s, today it does not have much empirical evidence.

Added to this, we should not ignore the type of reasoning behind the proof, circular. The dead man test associates behavior with being alive while anything a dead man can do is automatically considered non-behavior, therefore, its premise is that being alive is synonymous with behavior and not being alive is synonymous. of non-conduct.

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This brings us to the current conceptualization of what is considered, or at least should be considered, as behavior Current behavior analysts indicate that any behavior that we conceptualize as such must be measurable and observable, in addition to the fact that the behavior to be analyzed must be formulated in a clear, objective and concise manner and, certainly, there are some things that the dead can ” do” that could be considered conduct taking into account these parameters and it would be in that case that the dead man test could be useful.

When carrying out any type of behavior analysis, behaviors that are socially significant and in which it is clear that the individual is involved must be chosen, and the latter can be verified by using the dead man’s test. But, in addition to this, every behavior analyst must make sure that the behaviors that he has established as such are measurable, observable, clear, objective and concise. If he does not meet these criteria nor does he pass the dead man’s test, it is necessary to propose another behavior to evaluate.