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Athabasca University

David Polson, Ph.D.



Interest Areas

  • Behavior analysis (experimental and applied), technology of teaching, history of psychology.


I was born and raised in Windsor, Ontario. I attended the University of Windsor and, after switching majors a few times, graduated with a B.A. (1983) in psychology. It took only one visit to the west coast to decide it was where I wanted to be. I chose to do my graduate schooling at the University of Victoria, where I earned an M.A. (1985) and Ph.D. (1991) in psychology, specializing in behaviour analysis. I took some time off during my graduate studies to work in northern BC, first as a behavioural consultant with developmentally disabled persons, and later in curriculum design for the human services worker program at the College of New Caledonia. After graduate school, I stayed in Victoria and remained affiliated with the University of Victoria. For several years I worked full-time as a Learning Specialist in the Study Skills Program, teaching courses, conducting workshops, and providing individual counselling for students. Concurrently, I taught courses and conducted behavioural research in the psychology department.

Currently, my professional activities are mostly divided between Athabasca University and the University of Victoria. At Athabasca University, I am the tutor for three courses in the psychology department, the teacher of one course for the Masters of Arts Integrated Studies program, and I sometimes contribute to course development (e.g., write online tutorials). At the University of Victoria, my position is “Continuing Sessional Instructor.” While my focus there is on teaching, time permitting, I continue to conduct behavioural research.

As a teacher, I have tried to practice what I preach. For example, I apply the principles of behaviour analysis to teach the principles of behaviour analysis. My research interests concern basic learning issues with applied implications for students of all ages. For example, if you study with flashcards by seeing a definition and providing the term, are you then better able to provide the definition when seeing the term?

Over the years, my teaching activities and research activities have intertwined. I sometimes invite exceptional students of mine to become involved in my research, and agree to supervise them as part of an independent studies course (or Honours thesis). And there is yet more overlap—my research findings have informed how I teach. For example, the answer to the question I posed above appears to be no. So, whereas previously I required students in my courses to obtain fluency with flashcards by seeing the definition and providing the term, now they are also required to provide randomly selected missing keywords from the definition.

My wife, Angela Burns, is a personal counsellor and Registrar for the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. We are the proud parents of two sons, Luke (19 years old) and Daniel (16 years old).

Selected Publications

Polson, D.A.D., & Parsons, J. A. (2000). Selection-based versus topography-based responding: An important distinction for stimulus equivalence? The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 17, 105-128.

Polson, D.A.D., Grabavac, D.M., & Parsons, J.A. (1997). Intraverbal stimulus-response reversibility: Fluency, familiarity effects, and implications for stimulus equivalence. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 14, 19-40.

Polson, D.A.D. (1995). Fostering multiple repertoires in an undergraduate behavior analysis course. The Behavior Analyst, 18, 293-299.

Polson, D.A.D., & Parsons, J.A. (1994). Precurrent contingencies: Behavior reinforced by altering reinforcement probability for other behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 61, 427-439.

Selected Web Publications

Polson, D.A.D., & Grant, L. K. (2002). History of psychology timeline.

Polson, D.A.D. (2000). Ogden Lindsley and precision teaching.

Polson, D.A.D. (1998). Experimental design: Internal validity.

Updated May 01 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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