Nine Things Everyone Should Know about Behavior Analysis

  1. Behavior is anything that an organism does including that which is easily observable to others and internal activity such as feeling and thinking.

  2. Thoughts and feelings are not explanations or causes of behavior. Rather, behavior analysts view thoughts and feelings as behaviors that require explanation like any other behavior.

  3. The subject matter of behavior analysis is behavior in its context, nothing else. Behavior analysts operate on the assumption that all behavior is lawful and the result of genetic and environmental causes.

  4. Behavior is not an indicator of non-verifiable processes or events that are hypothesized to be beyond the reach of natural science explanation.

  5. Behavior analysts are primarily concerned with development of a complete, natural science account of behavior. While behavior analysts primarily view their function as determining the role the environment plays in behavior, they recognize that biological variables are also important.

  6. A person’s behavior is seen as having been shaped or selected by the environment in much the same way as characteristics of a species are selected over time by adaptation to environmental characteristics.

  7. Behavior analysts study both human and animal behavior to learn of their similarities and differences. While animal behavior is important in itself, its study also provides a way of simplifying complex questions about human behavior.

  8. Behavior analytic research and principles continue to be applied in most every walk of life including regular and special education, therapy, management-labor practices, health and wellness practices, protection of the environment, and parenting.

  9. Experimental, theoretical and applied approaches to the development of these defining characteristics are steadily being addressed and developed, thus ensuring that behavior analysis is an ever improving, self-correcting field.

Why care about behavior analysis?

Everyone’s quality of life depends on the kind of world we create for each other and ourselves. Behavior analysts are intensely concerned with researching how our surroundings and personal histories determine who we become so that we can help others to healthier, happier lives. Behavior analysis converts our curiosity about why we do what we do, into procedures for improving the human condition.

So what has behavior analysis done for me lately?

Here’s just a small sample of what behavior analysts have been doing  (apologizing in advance for the the 1000s of examples that are omitted because of limited space):

  1. Improving education. Many of our best instructional procedures and positive classroom management tactics were initiated by behavior analysts.

  2. Healthcare. Programs for dealing with eating disorders, high blood pressure, ulcers,  and many, many more disorders that now yield to behavior analytic techniques but previously required medication. On the preventative side, there are programs to improve compliance with exercise programs, improve eating habits, reduce smoking, and so much more a subspecialties have arisen.

  3. Parenting. Parenting skills from handling recalcitrant children to toilet training have been addressed.

  4. Safety. Improving safety ranges from increasing seat belt usage to programs that encourage safe practices on worksites.

  5. Autism. For the first time, parents of children with autism have effective procedures for meeting the challenges the disability can present.

  6. Students with disabilities. Children with attention deficit disorders, hyperactivity, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, and many other challenges, have found behavior analysis to be the only source of procedures that bring substantive and long-lasting improvement.

  7. Clinical psychology. Many debilitating personal problems which bring people to counseling have been successfully addressed by behavior analysis: excessive fear and anxiety, marriage problems, alcoholism and drug addiction, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and many more.

  8. Sports. Coaching skills and effective training procedures have been developed.

  9. Achieving our highest potential. Self-management programs have been a focus of behavior analysis for decades.

  10. Business and organizations. Human resources personnel and those responsible for managing employees in business settings have benefited from behavior analysis’ effective and positive approaches.

  11. Given all of us reason to optimistic. Behavior analysts have repeatedly shown that incredibly complex behavior such as making better choices, learning and using language, and insight and creativity can not only be studied, but taught.

Rats and pigeons — What?!?

I heard that you guys study rats and pigeons and would turn us all into robots.

Well, no, regarding the robots part. Regarding rats and pigeons, check out what Alan Kazdin has to say.

There are many myths and urban legends about behavior analysis. In fact, there’s an entire literature dedicated to eradicating those misrepresentations. On this site, “Nine Things Everyone Should Know about Behavior Analysis” is a great introductory summary of behavior analysis and “Common Misrepresentations” will probably address most of what you’ve heard that isn’t so.

Common Misrepresentations of Behavior Analysis

Every field suffers some misrepresentation. But not every field faces persistent misrepresentation and non-representation despite:

  • A large, well-written literature for many audiences.

  • A growing literature targeting misrepresentations.

  • Numerous contributions to experimental psychology and applied fields including education, clinical psychology, medicine, and business.

This work is an attempt to:

  • Identify some of the more enduring and damaging misrepresentations of behavior analysis.

  • Clarify the generally held behavior analytic position on these issues.

  • Provide the interested reader with resources for further study.


About Behavior Analysis

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