Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


40th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2014

Event Details

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B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper Session #143
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

Leadership Seminar: Is There a Fix for Behavior Analysis’ Perception Problem

Sunday, May 25, 2014
9:00 AM–9:50 AM
W190a (McCormick Place Convention Center)
Area: CSE; Domain: Basic Research
Instruction Level: Basic
CE Instructor: David Freedman, B.A.
Chair: Ramona Houmanfar (University of Nevada, Reno)
David H. Freedman is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and at Inc. Magazine, a contributor to Scientific American, and a consulting editor for Johns Hopkins Medicine International. He is the author of five books, the most recent being Wrong, about the problems with the published findings of medical scientists and other experts. Much of his recent work is related to obesity, nutrition, and health-related behavior change. He received the 2011 ABAI Dissemination of Behavior Analysis-Special Interest Group’s B. F. Skinner Journalism Award and was awarded a Rockefeller Bellagio Residency to study global obesity. He is the author of an Atlantic cover story calling for a new appreciation of B. F. Skinner and behaviorism.

The public’s attitude toward the principles and practice of behavior analysis tends to range from complete unawareness to misguided hostility. The result is that the field is often marginalized, even as it becomes potentially ever more valuable as a means of addressing difficult, widespread problems in society in important behavior-related domains, including education, population, health, economics, and climate change. The public’s ignorance, misperceptions, and apprehensions about behavior analysis stem in part to a long history of prominent antagonism toward the field on the parts of those invested in alternative and generally less effective approaches to dealing with behavior. But the problem also has been exacerbated by a sharp failure on the part of the field, dating back to B. F. Skinner himself, to present itself in ways likely to resonate with the public. Meanwhile, leaders in what might be considered “rival” fields have often been, and continue to be, highly effective in doing so, sometimes to behavior analysis’s detriment. Ironically, behavior analysis’s fidelity to the rigors of scientific evidence has worked against the field in this regard. This rigor has produced effective treatments, but leaves lay people cold when it comes to understanding and appreciating this effectiveness, given that most of the public has little feel or empathy for scientific rigor, and is instead easily swayed by emotional and narrative appeal. The challenge that therefore lies before the field is this: Can and should behavior analysis present itself to an often gullible and easily misled public in a more resonant, less scientifically stiff way that wins it more appreciation and thus opportunity to achieve impact? It almost certainly could, and it’s worth considering possible approaches for doing so, as well as weighing the potential costs.

Target Audience:

Psychologists, behavior analysts, graduate students, and anyone interested in learning about the perception of behavior analysis.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants should be able to (1) Identify the nature, causes, and scope of the problem of behavior analysis being ignored or mistrusted by the public; (2) Understand why some presentations of alternative approaches to dealing with problem behaviors resonate with the public, especially as compared to behavior analysis; (3) Consider what sort of presentation of behavior analysis might achieve more positive recognition from the public, and to evaluate the possible drawbacks to such an approach.
Keyword(s): leadership



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