Eating eight gluten-free chocolate chip muffins for breakfast. Flicking a cigarette butt out your car window. Giving a breath mint to your boyfriend. Peeling a banana. Crying after watching Titanic for the 38th time. Jogging around the block in your favorite spandex outfit for 25 minutes. Do any of these things share a commonality? They do in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis, also known as ABA.
ABA is the science of applying the principles of learning and behavior in order to achieve socially significant change. If you have not figured it out yet, the aforementioned are all behaviors - eating, flicking, giving, peeling, crying, jogging, etc. Some behaviors may be undesirable, such as littering and over-eating, while other behaviors, such as exercising, may be more desirable. ABA looks at these behaviors, whatever they may be, and examines the environmental influences that are maintaining them. Thus, if there are particular behaviors one wants to target for increase or decrease, there are different ways to manipulate the environment to achieve the desired outcome.
ABA and their practitioners, BCBAs (Board Certified Behavior Analysts), have gained popularity more recently within the field of autism and developmental disabilities. Behaviorists have worked with many of these individuals and have created a plethora of success moments, from tying shoes to balancing a bank account. Yet, ABA can be expanded to many other areas as more people familiarize themselves with its possibilities. Currently, some other popular areas that ABA has expanded into are education, weight loss, exercise routines, parenting, sports, littering, medical procedures, and the list goes on!
You have probably even used some of the tactics in ABA without even being aware of it. For example, your girlfriend gives you a present you really love, and you immediately thank her and give her a kiss. Assuming that she finds such attention rewarding, she will probably continue her gift giving behavior in the future. You have just rewarded that behavior! However, if every time you give your Aunt Berna a present and she complains about how awful it is, your own gift giving behavior will probably decrease since she is ultimately punishing your efforts. These sorts of contingencies occur all the time, usually beyond our every day attention. BCBAs help people find their own patterns using various data collection procedures and figure out ways to work with these contingencies.
So, the next time you are faced with a behavioral issue, ABA may be a good way to address it. Keep in mind exactly what a behavioral issue is. If there is a behavior (something that someone does that can be seen and measured), ABA can work with it. A general rule of thumb is, if a dead man can do it, it is not a behavior. Increasing performance on exams, expanding your body’s flexibility, getting your husband to turn down his stereo volume, decreasing those drop-in visits from the in-laws, reducing verbal protesting from your teenager, and getting your dog to pee outside – ABA can work with all of these.
Here are some helpful links to find out more!
http://ww.iaba.com/ (Institute for Applied Behavior Analysis)
http://www.abainternational.org/ (Association for Behavior Analysis International)
http://www.bacb.com/ (Behavior Analyst Certification Board)
http://byocmag.com/ (An online magazine focusing on behavioral wellness and tactics with lots of fun examples)