The Many Facets of Applied Behavior Analysis

Brendan’s earliest subject (in transparent soil)

What do the dynamic pitch contour of a teacher’s voice while speaking, the growth patterns of roots and the academic performance of children have in common?

Honestly, very little. But we’ll get back to that.

When people think about Applied Behavior Analysis, they often think about autism. This is perfectly natural, considering the unparalleled effectiveness of behavior analytic treatments for autism. But, our success in this domain is only part of the behavior analysis’ story. Applied behavior analysis is used in sports, business, sustainable development, schools, animal training, addiction treatment and much, much more.

And behavior analysis research can look like anything, which brings me back to the question I started this blog with: what do the dynamic pitch contour of a teacher’s voice while speaking, the growth patterns of roots, and the academic performance of children have in common?

Answer: the experimental methodology employed by behavior analysts is the best way to study and improve them. Unlike many researchers in other domains of psychology, whose goal is often to identify correlations and make predictions, the chief objective of behavior analysts is to demonstrate control over the phenomenon they are studying. This could mean, for example, a measurable improvement in an actor’s speaking performance, better report cards for a child in school and the ability to teach a plant’s roots how and where they must grow.

Wait, what? Academic performance makes sense, voice training for teachers is weird but plausible, but plant learning? Behavior analysts can teach plants how to grow?

OK, OK, you got me there. Teaching root growth patterns to plants is not something that behavior analysts – or anyone else for that matter – can do (so far as I’m aware at least). And, you’re right, we haven’t studied how to change the pitch contour of teachers’ voices either. But our methodology, which is extremely adaptable and applicable to all situations in which behavior can be observed, is probably the best way to figure these things out.

In fact, those are two of my personal research interests:

  • Voice training via biofeedback (to improve the memory of listeners), and
  • The learning capacity of plants

Both of these aren’t traditional subject areas for behavior analysts, but I’m confident that our research methodology will suit them well. I mean, I’m not saying that I won’t fail completely –that’s a definite, if not likely, possibility (trust me) – but I’m willing to bet that my results will be conclusive, one way or another. They should at least sate my curiosity!

I should mention that it really helps to be enrolled in the Applied Behavior Analysis and Organizational Behavior Management program at Florida Tech, where faculty are cool with their grad students tackling weird research questions like these.

Join me next time, when I talk about my plant research!

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