Preventing school massacres: How behavioral science can aid the prediction and influence of violent behavior

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

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

On Valentine’s day of this year, America was shook by yet another school-based massacre. As behavior analysts, we must ask ourselves – is there anything we can do to collaborate with authorities to prevent such loss and horror? A recent video by Brett DiNovi & Associates poses these questions and points out several common behavioral signs that often precede engagement in such violent acts.

As behavior analysts, our focus is always predicting and influencing behavior. Though discussions of “mental illness” and the current state of gun control as contributing factors certainly have their place, our focus today will be on individual behavioral signs that may indicate that a functional assessment and coordination with other care givers and authorities to prevent violence is warranted.

Though diagnosed “mental illness” has proven a poor predictor of violent behavior, a behavior analyst may note that many mass murders in recent years have engaged in public posts to social media that indicate intent to harm others. The shooter from the Florida massacre reportedly made repeated statements to the effect that he admired individuals who had completed acts of mass murder and intended to harm others. Additionally, the shooter’s statements reportedly escalated in their frequency and the level of violence they detailed prior to the shootings.

Further, recent reports of the incident have indicated that law enforcement were likely notified by members of the public that the shooter was making such statements; however, they may have been either unable to identify the shooter as the poster of these comments with an appropriate level of certainty or they may have been unable to determine the function of his statements in time to prevent the massacre from happening.

As behavior analysts, we can add to the prevention of violent behavior by working with authorities to develop functional assessment protocols for violent behavior. We can also add to the discussion of prediction and influence of violent behavior by engaging in active, civil, and functional debate about the causes of such behavior continuously. As our society heals, many have noted the familiar cycle of “talk but no action.”  We ask behavior analysts to step beyond the cycle, notice its function, and take appropriate action to move the world towards preventing such atrocities.

How do you think behavior analysts can help reduce mass shootings?  Let us know in the comments below.  Also be sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos.

bSci21Media, LLC is a leading media outlet for behavior analysis that serves to disseminate the science to the world and support behavior analytic companies around the globe.  The company’s larger vision is B.F. Skinner’s vision of bringing a technology of behavior change to the world in order to address it’s biggest problems.

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

*Paid content by Brett DiNovi & Associates.


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  1. The hot topic is gun control–but a gun without a human is inert. One fact is clear–these school shooters are outcasts and have little reason to respect the life of others around them. Im not saying that their behavior is acceptable–NOT AT ALL. But neither is the behavior reflected by the rest of us–that is to say everyone knows someone at school or work that is ostracized in cruel fashion. Yet because they may express idiosyncratic behavior or oddities, the rest of us ally and often exile. AS people, as BCBAs, we have to ensure we are promoting inclusion as well as awareness, camaraderie across social strata as opposed to the disenfranchisement that occurs now if you don’t quite fit in. On the other end, news media provide an inordinate amount of coverage and attention to these stories in the name of providing information. This coverage however also serves to promote the shooters’ of the future as it demos how now the world over is at their attention and those guilty of inflicting exile have met a similar fate at the shooter’s hands. The attention to this matter is in all the wrong places. Hence ABA should create a social skills curriculum that promotes inclusive ideals–specifically identifying those who are ‘loners’ and loop them into a supportive and genuine social support scene.

    • Thank you for the clear statement if what I am observing, as a Florida local and service provider. If education about bullying by exclusion and how it is “not” behaving or noticing an isolated peer. Perhaps one authentic “How can I helo?” might prevent suffrring on an unexpected scale? An actionable good start toward a meaningful outcome of tragedy. multifaceted succes

  2. What would Albert Bandura and Social Learning Theory say about it? We don’t talk about Bandura’s work enough! Likely has easy application with school shootings.

    • Weaponize the Bobo! Bigger, scary bops as firepower overcorrection in all preschools! 🙂 Perhaps on a variable ratio schedule…

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