ABA Can’t Survive the 21st Century Without Mobile Technology


By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor, bSci21.org

A recurring theme on bSci21 is the increasing role of technology in measuring and predicting our behavior, such as incorporating the Internet into behavior plans, and the near-future evolution of smart cities.

Renee Lewis, of AlJazeera America, recently wrote on the ability of phones to track and diagnose clusters of behavior, particularly the cluster commonly labelled as “depression.” Citing a study in the Journal of Medical Internet Researchshe discusses a new phone app that could be a game changer in behavioral data collection and assessment.

In the study, by Sohrab Saeb and colleagues from Northwestern University, researchers compared two groups of participants — one group showed no signs of depression while the other group had mild to severe depression.

Renee noted that the phone app in question, called “Purple Robot” could determine the mobility of an individual for a given day, where a person tended to spend his/her time, the regularity of his/her daily schedule, daily phone use, etc…

Researchers found that higher phone use was seen in individuals diagnosed with depression, as was behavior deemed to not follow a 24-hour cycle.  In short, the more chaotic and unpredictable the behavior, the more likely the individual was diagnosed with depression.

The researchers explain the higher use of phones among individuals diagnosed with depression in terms of avoidance — avoiding thinking about troubling or anxiety-provoking things or situations.  Behavior analysts specializing in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy would refer to such behavior as “experiential avoidance.

Measuring behavior through phone apps have the advantage of being unobtrusive, passive, collectors of information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  As behavior analysts, we need to embrace the new landscape of mobile devices and the behavioral measurement opportunities they afford us if we are to be a competitive science and practice in the 21st century.

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