Common Misconceptions about Behavior Analysis

Photo by Cody Davis on Unsplash

Angela Cathey, MA & Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

Photo by Cody Davis on Unsplash

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has an image problem. A science built on behavioral principles is difficult for outsiders to recognize and understand. Our science tends to get identified as relevant only to those issues with which we are most frequently paired. Current insurance reimbursement practices mean that most people contact behavior analysts in the context of addressing the needs of a child with developmental disabilities or ‘problem behaviors.’ This tends to give the public and even other providers and support staff the impression that behavior analysis is only able to treat autism and behavioral problems.

Further, the public and other professionals tend to recognize specific job titles and certifications over skills. This is in part due to the nature of our work. Recognizing a skillset that defies specific topographies is difficult. People have a hard time recognizing that their behavior, their dog’s behavior, and their organization’s behavior can in large part be understood and influenced by mastering of a small set of principles. Though Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) are often the most recognizable behavior analysts, due to title, a behavior analyst can wear any title. Many psychologists and therapists train in behavior analysis extensively. Further, in most cases, no degree at all is required to integrate behavioral principles into your life and your work. The certifications and legalities of our positions tend to have more to do with with reimbursement processes, liability risk with certain populations, and establishing the behavior analysts’ ability to recognize function and risks with new types of client issues.

Another frequent misconception about behavior analysis is that reinforcement is bribery. This common misconception, of course, occurs more frequently in the context of treating developmental disabilities and problem behavior. Underlying this misconception as well is the tendency of the uninformed to attend to the topography of our behavior without recognizing the underlying functions of behavior or the process of treatment itself. When the unaccustomed member of the public sees a behavior analyst providing reinforcement for better behavior, especially contrived reinforcers (e.g., candy, small treats, etc.) they may falsely identify this action alone as the treatment.

As a behavior analyst, it becomes our duty to help others recognize our science and to build flexibility in ourselves to recognize skill above topography. As you build your skill, make sure that you continue to challenge yourself to identify principles below the level of topography and behavior analysts beyond the level of title.

Be sure to check out Brett DiNovi & Associate’s full video on these common misconceptions and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos.  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

bSci21Media, LLC, owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world,  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurialbSciWebDesignbSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.

Brett DinoviBrett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at [email protected]

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