Defining the Field of Behavior Analysis

Defining the Field of Behavior Analysis

The field of Behavior Analysis grew out of the scientific study of principles of learning and behavior. It has two main branches: experimental and applied behavior analysis. The experimental analysis of behavior (EAB) is the basic science of this field and has over many decades accumulated a substantial and well-respected research literature. This literature provides the scientific foundation for applied behavior analysis (ABA), which is both an applied science that develops methods of changing behavior and a profession that provides services to meet diverse behavioral needs. Briefly, professionals in applied behavior analysis engage in the specific and comprehensive use of principles of learning, including operant and respondent learning, in order to address behavioral needs of widely varying individuals in diverse settings. Examples of these applications include: building the skills and achievements of children in school settings; enhancing the development, abilities, and choices of children and adults with different kinds of disabilities; and augmenting the performance and satisfaction of employees in organizations and businesses.

Because of its prominent applications on behalf of people at-risk and historical concerns for the humane treatment of consumers, applied behavior analysis has been the focus of many state regulations. In the course of defining the practice of behavior analysis and establishing certification for practitioners, some succinct regulatory definitions of the discipline have been developed. For example:

Behavior Analysis: The design, implementation, and evaluation of systematic environmental modifications for the purpose of producing socially significant improvements in and understanding of human behavior based on the principles of behavior identified through the experimental analysis of behavior. It includes the identification of functional relationships between behavior and environments. It uses direct observation and measurement of behavior and environment. Contextual factors, establishing operations, antecedent stimuli, positive reinforcers, and other consequences are used, based on identified functional relationships with the environment, in order to produce practical behavior change. (Florida Department of Children and Families)

Behavior Analysis: Means the design, implementation, and evaluation of instructional and environmental modifications to produce socially significant improvements in human behavior through skill acquisition and the reduction of problematic behavior. A behavior analysis program shall be based on empirical research, include the direct observation and measurement of behavior, and utilize antecedent stimuli, positive reinforcement, and other consequences to produce behavior change. (California Department of Developmental Services).

Applied behavior analysis is a well-developed discipline among the helping professions, with a mature body of scientific knowledge, established standards for evidence-based practice, distinct methods of service, recognized experience and educational requirements for practice, and identified sources of requisite education in universities. Although the above regulatory definitions provide an overview of key elements within the practice of behavior analysis, there are additional features of applied behavior analysis that should be clarified in order to even briefly define the field. For the purposes of BACB certifications and examinations, the content of applied behavior analysis is contained in the BACB Behavior Analysis Task List. This and additional information may be found elsewhere on the BACB web site.

New York State Association for Behavior Analysis
Florida Department of Children And Families
California Department of Developmental Services

The trademarks “Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc.,” “BACB,” “Board Certified Behavior Analyst,” “BCBA,” “Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst,” and “BCABA” are owned by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. All rights reserved. Copyright © 1998-2005 by BACBA® All rights reserved.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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