ABA and big social problems
What should behavior analysts be doing about solving problems?
Some readers may have heard criticisms of applied behavior analysis. “Oh, that’s the robotic method for children with autism.” “Well, you know, ABA is just the way to dominate children’s will.” “ABA? Isn’t that all that stuff with shock sticks?” Well, no.
But, there’s another criticism: ABA has not addressed the huge array of socially significant problems that we humans face. How about climate change, road rage, or war?
An all-star roster of thoughtful behaviorists examined concerns about the shortcomings of ABA in a straight-ahead manor. In a paper published in Perspectives on Behavior Analysis, William L. Heward, Thomas S. Critchfield, Derek D. Reed, Ronnie Detrich, and Jonathan W. Kimball (2022) provide background about the changes in what behaviors behavior analysts have examined over the last 70 years, catalog several hundred ABA studies according to what social issue each addressed, describe the gaps in this literature, and discuss how ABA can help humans.
Here is the abstract for their paper:
Applied behavior analysis (ABA), the practical wing of behavior science, is defined by its focus on socially significant behavior and characterized by an assumed relevance to every domain of it. Although advocates claim ABA has world-changing potential, disagreements exist about how well the science has met its potential for far-ranging social significance. To advance this discussion, we present an extensive list of socially significant behavior domains to which ABA has given empirical attention. The list demonstrates the broad applicability of behavior analysis and suggests some themes future researchers could emphasize to help ABA achieve world-changing impact.
I encourage readers who have doubts about the utility of ABA to read the paper dispassionately. It provides a heckuva a catalog of accomplishment, but the authors show how the heart of ABA can help guide we humans to better outcomes for ourselves and our planet.
And “hooray” that SET subscriber, Ronnie D., contributed to this analysis!
Heward, W. L., Critchfield, T. S., Reed, D. D., Dietrick, R., & Kimball, J. W. (2022). ABA from A to Z: Behavior science applied to 350 domains of socially significant behavior. Perspectives on Behavior Science, 45, 327–359. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40614-022-00336-z