Behavior analysis is a natural science that seeks to understand the behavior of individuals and to apply this understanding in a wide range of settings.
The basic science, sometimes called the experimental analysis of behavior, views environmental influences over behavior as the primary subject matter. Particular emphasis is placed on the simple-to-state but conceptually powerful principle that consequences, sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious and easily identified, change behavior. In a sense, the experimental analysis of behavior is the scientific study of voluntary behavior in many species and genera. It draws upon and contributes to numerous other disciplines, including the neurosciences, psychopharmacology, Pavlovian (classical) conditioning and economics to name just a few.
Some of the topics studied in basic laboratories are:
- Reinforcement processes that select or strengthen new behavior.
- Behavioral economics.
- Addictive behavior, including a conceptualization of addictive behaviors as being due to disturbances in reinforcement processes.
- The role of probability and delay discounting, important in gambling and impulsivity, and self-control.
- Variation and selection in the formation of new behavior.
- Stimulus control processes (discrimination, generalization, conditional discrimination).
- Functional analysis of language.
- The formation of stimulus equivalence classes, in which seemingly disparate stimuli (like the spoken word "chair" and an actual chair) give rise to very similar responses. This area has shed light on how language emerges and the treatment of individual with severe language deficits.
Translation and Application
Application flows naturally from good science, and in part because of close ties with basic science, applied behavior analysis has enjoyed enormous success in improving the lives of individuals by focusing on behavior that is of social or personal importance.
Applied behavior analysis has played an especially prominent role in many areas, including:
- The treatment of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, not only by helping people achieve greater independence, but also by developing practical techniques for the humane care of people using positive reinforcement.
- Effective and supportive behavior management in classrooms.
- Data-driven approaches to instruction.
- Contingency management in the treatment of substance abuse.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
- Organizational behavior management.
- Behavioral approaches to occupational safety.
- Humane practices in caring for companion animals as well as animals in zoos and laboratory settings.
- The study of the behavioral effects of environmental contaminants.