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.


45th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2019

Event Details

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Symposium #330
CE Offered: BACB
A Deeper Examination of Social Validity and its Role in Clinical Practice
Sunday, May 26, 2019
4:00 PM–5:50 PM
Hyatt Regency East, Lobby Level, Plaza Ballroom AB
Area: AUT/CSS; Domain: Service Delivery
Chair: Sonia Levy (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology)
Discussant: Diana J. Walker (Trinity Services/Illinois Crisis Prevention Network)
CE Instructor: Cameron Mittelman, M.A.

While many would agree that social validity plays an important role in the field of applied behavior analysis, the degree to which social validation is incorporated into all facets of clinical practice is mixed. Furthermore, variations exist in the exact manner in which social validity is assessed and the extent to which the results of social validity assessments are properly used by practitioners (Schwartz & Baer, 1991). The purpose of this symposium is to expand the audience’s understanding of the very idea of social validity and to provide further considerations for how clinicians can utilize social validity in their practice. The first presentation will discuss social validity from a conceptual standpoint, thoroughly examining Wolf’s (1978) description. The second presentation will provide a review of the extent to which social validity was assessed for stereotypic behavior in two major behavior analytic journals. The third presentation will include a description of how social validity is assessed and utilized in a clinic setting for children diagnosed with various developmental disabilities. The final presentation will discuss the relation between social validity and diversity, and the ways in which culture impacts social validity assessment. The symposium will conclude with a discussion from Dr. Diana Walker.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): Cultural Considerations, Diversity Issues, Social Validity
Target Audience:

The target audience is current practitioners who work with clients to change behavior. This symposium is also for college or university instructors teaching behavior analysis to students who may be able to incorporate information from this symposium into their lessons.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) describe the concept of social validity and state its importance in clinical practice, (2) state ways in which socially validity may be assessed and ways in which the results of such assessments can affect clinical decisions, and (3) describe how cultural differences may affect social validity and impact the ways in which it may be assessed.

Social Validity: What it is and Why We Need it

CAMERON MITTELMAN (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology)

Wolf (1978) suggested three elements of the behavior change process for which social validity can be examined: the social significance of the goals, the social appropriateness of the procedures, and the social importance of the effects. Though few would argue against the value of social validity, the extent to which it is assessed and used does not often match its stated importance. For example, Snodgrass et al. (2018) found in their review of six behavior analytic publications across a 12-year period that only 26% of the articles examined discussed social validity. Furthermore, only 6.5% of those articles included an assessment of all three of Wolf’s (1978) areas of social validity. For too many researchers and practitioners, socially validity seems to be considered an afterthought or a footnote rather than as a vital part of the behavior change process. This presentation argues that as applied behavior analysis expands, the deliberate assessment of social validity will become even more important. Specifically, the presentation will elaborate on Wolf’s (1978) conceptualization of social validity and will describe various ways in which social validity can not only be assessed, but ways in which social validity can be deliberately increased.

The Social Validity of Intervention for Stereotypic Behavior: A Literature Review
AMY NICOLE LAWLESS (Nationwide Children's Hospital ), Joshua Garner (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology)
Abstract: Stereotypic behavior or “stereotypy” refers to any number of behavioral topographies typically maintained by automatic reinforcement. Stereotypy is often a behavior targeted for decrease in many behavior change interventions, particularly for individuals with autism. However, this focus on the reduction and/or replacement of such behavior has drawn criticism, particularly from members of the autism community who often question the social validity of intervening on such behavior. Previous studies (e.g., Carr et al., 1999; Kennedy, 1992; Snodgrass et al., 2018) have examined reports of social validity assessment in the literature, though these reviews have not examined variations in social validity reporting across specific target behaviors. Therefore, the purpose of this presentation is to provide a review of the literature pertaining to stereotypy in two behavior analytic journals. Specifically, the review will examine the frequency of any descriptions of social validity in empirical articles in which stereotypy was one of the target behaviors. The review will include a discussion of the implications of these results, as well as recommendations for how future researchers may evaluate the role of social validity for such behaviors.

Social Validity in the Applied Clinical Setting: Making Change That Matters

SONIA LEVY (Integrate Health Services)

What is social validity? And why is it so important? Social validity is typically discussed as the extent to which the target behaviours selected for intervention or change are appropriate, the intervention and procedures used are acceptable, and the extent to which significant change is produced (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Simply put, from a clinical standpoint, social validity is the extent to which we create a meaningful change in our client’s lives. Which target behaviour will benefit the client the most? Which procedures are the least intrusive/invasive and most effective? How can we program for this behaviour change to last over time? Through a discussion of client scenarios, this portion of the symposium will focus on how and why social validity should be at the forefront of our clinical decisions and how social validity can and should be incorporated into all aspects of our clinical decision making – from assessments, to program development, to behaviour plan implementation, to parent training, and everything in between.


Social Validity in The Applied Setting: Where Culture and Diversity Matter

PADMINI SRIMAN (National Louis University), Jennifer Klapatch Totsch (National Louis University)

From an applied standpoint, social validity is the extent to which we create a meaningful change in our client’s lives. The effects of our interventions are just one measure of social validity; social validity of targets should also be assessed (such as why a clinician and a parent may disagree on how to prioritize targets) as well as the social validity of the procedures (treatment acceptability). In assessing the social validity of all three of those things, cultural differences between clinicians and clients likely impact their individual definitions of socially valid goals, interventions, and outcomes. How do we evaluate clients and incorporate programs that factor the client’s culture and diversity? Which interventions are likely to be accepted and implemented by relevant stakeholders, such as parents? And which programs will be maintained in the client’s natural environment? Through a discussion of various diverse client scenarios, this portion of the symposium will focus on the need for our clients/ culture to be at the forefront of our service delivery and clinical decisions, and how social validity assessments can and should be incorporated into all aspects of that service delivery in order to produce the most meaningful outcomes possible for our clients.




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