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The Dead Man Test

Page history last edited by Regina Claypool-Frey 14 years, 8 months ago



The Dead Man Test


p. 455


"...Dead-man test for behavior (Lindsley, 1965). In 1965, we were plagued by a rash of very poor alleged "measures" of classroom behavior. The educational research journals were publishing studies with "time on task" that were actually only records of minutes spent sitting at a desk in arithmetic position. Another equally virulent measure was minutes spent without a tantrum. Thinking of the "reductio ad absurdum" method used successfully in laboratory natural science, I deduced that if a dead boy could do it, it wasn't behavior; we should not spend valuable school funds teaching children to play dead.


I cut five personal profiles out of opaque plastic to demonstrate the dead-man test on overhead projector stages at early Precision Teaching workshops. There was: "Mouthy," whose jaw moved up and down if he was "talking"; "Bangie," with a bow in her hair, whose fist moved up and down to hit her head; "Thumby" in a propeller hat, whose thumb went up into his mouth and back down; "Thumby's" twin brother, "Nosey," also in a propeller hat, whose index finger went up deep into his nostril and back down; and Mathy," sitting at his desk, whose pencil went up and down as he did his math. With no motion all five figures could have been posed by dead men. If a dead man can do it, it isn't behavior and shouldn't be taught.


This test very successfully stamped out static measures of behavior position that were being used in place of behavior in many classrooms. It has a touch of humor, and practitioners did not get too mad when told that dead men could score perfectly high on their classroom behavior measures. They usually only chuckled, looked sheepish, and switched to an active pinpoint. This dead-man test has been used successfully by a large number of applied practitioners. So many, in fact, that, as with pinpointing, credit for its origins are no longer cited. (The dead-man test can be politically corrected for current use by calling it the "dead-person test.")..."


Lindsley, O.R. (1991). From technical jargon to Plain English for application. The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 449-458.



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