What Is Behavior Analysis?
Behavior analysis is a field of study that has grown from the study of learning and behavior. It is based on the study of behaviorism which was once a prominent school of thought in psychology. The work of Ivan Pavlov and his theory of classical conditioning, John B. Watson and his work on human behavior and B.F. Skinner and his theory of operant conditioning all contributed to the development of behaviorism from which behavior analysis grew.
Although behaviorism waned in popularity with the introduction of the humanistic and cognitive approaches, the techniques in behaviorism still continue to be used today. One of these strategies is shaping which refers to gradually modifying behavior by giving a reward to behavior that is closest to the one that is desired. Another technique is known as chaining which entails breaking down a task to its smaller components, with the most basic ones accomplished first. Only when mastery has been attained in the simplest task will the behavior analyst proceed to teach the next task.
Behavior analysis is divided into two branches: 1) Experimental behavior analysis and 2) Applied behavior analysis. Experimental behavior analysis serves as the science behind behavior analysis and acts as the resource by which a large body of research in the field has been collected and made available. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the second branch and is what is commonly referred to when one talks about behavior analysis. ABA refers to both an applied science and a career.
The most comprehensive definition of applied behavior analysis which is still being used today is the one given by Baer, Wolf, & Risley in 1968 which states that “Applied Behavior Analysis is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior.”
ABA basically develops ways to change behavior by utilizing learning principles to meet the needs of clients in different settings. Especially fundamental to the core belief of ABA is the application of the principles of learning theory like the use of reinforcement to facilitate desirable behaviors and curb undesirable ones. Moreover, the use of ABA must also continually be evaluated to determine if the interventions used have achieved their desired effect. Evaluation allows individuals to determine if modifications need to be made to ensure that there is progress with a particular form of intervention.
There are many applications to ABA. For example, it has been used to help children in school equip themselves with the necessary skills and knowledge considered important for their age. Among adults, ABA has been used with much success in making workers of a company or organization more productive and satisfied—two factors that greatly contribute towards the improvement of a company’s profitability. Young and old individuals who are suffering from mental disabilities like autism have greatly improved their abilities, are afforded better choices and way of life because of the interventions made by ABA. Moreover, ABA has also been applied in the areas of gerontology, parenting, substance abuse, health and fitness and even in the care and management of animals placed in zoos.