Behavior Analysis Can't Save The World (Alone)

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

There's a lot of talk in our field about how we can save the world from a variety of different social issues going all the way back to the early days to today. I really believe that our field can offer value in a number of ways. Here's a few that I think are especially prone to making an impact on the world: 

Measurement Technologies

Simple operational definitions and measurement of behavior makes a huge impact on our ability to engage in data-based decision making. There's a number of ways that we can achieve this, but the one that I think has the most potential is that of precision measurement. 

Ogden Lindsley was a student of B. F. Skinner's who found himself interested in applying what was being learned in the behavioral science laboratories to real world problems.  The result was "Precision Teaching," which came about when Og began applying four key steps (described below) in the classroom about 55 years ago (Lindsley, 1992). He defined Precision Teaching as an educational process in which decisions concerning educational interventions are based “on changes in continuous self-monitored performance frequencies displayed on ‘standard celeration charts’” (Lindsley, 1992, p. 51).  

Two parts are worthy of a little bit more elaboration: 

  1. self-monitored - meaning you can teach anyone how to use this process themselves (for example, Exploring Tomorrow curriculum from Gifted and Talented learners and their parents)
  2. Standard Celeration Charts - which may sound scary, but they are really easy to use and with the advent of new technology (Chartlytics) they're becoming more accessible than ever.

Although the process started in the educational realm, it's been used in a variety of different areas, including sports, medicine, self-reflection, counseling, self-control, business, job searching, studying techniques, etc. We aren't the only ones, but given the use of the process across so many different areas and not just teaching, we like to refer to the process as Precision Measurement. 

Now, if you're not into the SCC, then I at least ask that you consider two things. First, if you haven't tried to learn it, then do so. I'd be glad to talk about how we can help with that (see the form below). Second, if you haven't read into the value of rate as a measure of behavior, then you check out this resources immediately: Skinner on Measurement. It's worth the kinda pricey tag, and you get to support an organization owned and operated by precision teachers. 

Click on the picture to order a copy. 

Single-Subject Research Designs

The second are that could provide a lot of utility to the world is our knowledge and use of single-subject research designs. A distinction must be made between single subject (N of 1) design and a case study. A case study is a type of research design using a single participant and a method of treatment that seeks to identify possible patterns in the treatment process, progress, and outcome. They can be beneficial for generating future questions for scientific research, but they are only descriptive and exploratory. Nothing more can come from the use of them. 

In contrast, single-subject designs utilize various behavioral control procedures upon an individual patient or participant. Within the design, the results are not exploratory or descriptive. Rather, repeated measurement of observable behavior is taken and recorded. This allows one to examine the effectiveness of all or part of an intervention. Rather than being descriptive in nature, single-subject research designs provide quantifiable and empirical results based upon experimental control. Such results examine cause and effect relations between a particular intervention or treatment and the behavior of interest. 

An example of a movement that is centered around the concept of single-subject research designs, but largely unaware of how to utilize them is that of Below is a project that I submitted to kind of "get my foot in the door," that admittedly doesn't have the components of single-subject design present. However, it did lead to an opportunity to submit a paper on that very subject to a special issue journal. Slow and strategic steps forward... Read the full post here.

Ryan O'Donnell: Pages Read per Month related to Behavior Analysis

Ryan O'Donnell: Pages Read per Month related to Behavior Analysis

Conceptualizations of Behavior

There are a lot of different models that seek to represent how to "best" view behavior so as to understand and influence it. Here's a few that I'm fond of: 

  1. Goldiamond's Non-Linear Model (Free Option / Purchase Option)
  2. Kantor's Interbehavioral Model (Free Option / Purchase Option)
  3. Relational Frame Theory (Free Option / Purchase Option)
  4. Instructional Design (Free Option / Purchase Option)

Click on the "Free Option" or "Purchase Option" to get your hands on materials from these areas of the behavioral literature.

Each of these are typically just highlighted in the typical course sequences for behavior analysts. Some PhD programs and masters programs have course work directly on these areas, but it's not ubiquitous. However, the utility of these areas of the behavioral literature can't go unspoken. Some of the presenters at our upcoming event (attend online or in-person) subscribe to these models and our materials are designed bringing in components of these various areas of the literature as well (especially the instructional design literature). 

I believe that regardless of which model you subscribe to, a cohesive approach to conceptualizing behavior is what a lot of fields could benefit from. Pick any field of study or profession, and I believe that they could benefit from a cohesive conceptualization of behavior. However, with that said - they will equally (or more so) influence our understanding of behavior. There's so many professions, companies, apps, etc. that contact the world of human performance in so many different ways that our field does, and yes our tools could aid in "saving the world," but

we can't do it alone

I ask you to go make that contact with that person you see in the elevator, in that room across the hall, or that you've been reading about online and genuinely listen to what they do, where they come from, and how they approach understanding why people do what they do. It could very well lead to that next "aha!" moment or a collaboration that gets behavior analysis just a little more exposure to a world that has been looking for it for so long (but which arguably haven't quite framed in a way that allows them to capitalize on). 

Love to hear your thoughts too - what are the areas that you foresee behavior analysis making a HUGE impact on the world? I'm talking Google, Apple, Tesla big... ;) 

Have you registered yet? The clock is ticking...

Have you registered yet? The clock is ticking...