Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
By now you have probably heard about the Wild Boar soccer team trapped in an underground cave in Thailand since going missing June 23rd. CNN reported that the team, along with their coach “entered the cave during fine weather but became trapped when a sudden downpour flooded the narrow tunnels.”
The team is trapped deep below the surface, only accessible through narrow passage ways that take 5-6 hours for divers to reach. Recently, an experienced Thai Navy SEAL diver passed away on the return dive to deliver oxygen to the group.
Today, Elon Musk, the tech billionaire, announced that he is sending a team of engineers to the site to help in rescue efforts. Possible solutions from Musk’s team include battery packs, water pumps, ground penetrating radar, and a 1m wide nylon tube to create an air tunnel through which the team could be evacuated.
While such efforts should be applauded, little has been said about the role of behavioral science in such a situation. Below are three potential areas in which behavioral scientists can collaborate.
The New York Times reported that the team initially went to the cave as part of an initiation ritual of sorts. The boys left their belongings behind in an effort to get to the end of the tunnel, write their name on the wall, and return. Unexpectedly, a sudden downpour trapped the team inside the cave with sparse supplies.
Prevention efforts could approach the problem from a number of angles. For instance, the Thai government could help ensure antecedent stimuli are in place, such as warning signs and barricades, that communicate the dangers of entering the cave during the rainy season.
As a more drastic measure, automated ticketing technology could be put in place at cave sites, that record the identities of individuals and mail them fines for entering dangerous areas. Similar technologies are already in place to enforce traffic laws in the U.S.
Lastly, we are entering the age of “smart cities.” Data on our behavior is everywhere as our behavior becomes mediated through mobile technologies. Automated systems could be put in place that track and warn people in dangerous areas not to proceed, and potentially enforce the warnings with tech-mediated fines.
Being trapped in a cave with few supplies is bound to take a psychological toll on everyone involved. Reports suggest the coach is teaching the kids meditation techniques in an effort to cope. Meditation is a type of defusion technique prominent in behavioral approaches to psychological wellbeing, such as Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT).
In short, defusion is a process wherein one comes to experience their thoughts and feelings as simply acts-in-context, devoid of any inherent “truth.” Defusion is the difference between saying “I am going to die in this cave” and “I am having the feeling like I am going to die in this cave.” In the former example, one is looking at the world through their own language, in the latter they are looking at their language as part of the world.
Behavioral Skills Training
Most of the kids in the cave reportedly don’t know how to swim. A plan discussed prominently in the media involves divers teaching the kids how to swim in order to make the treacherous 5-6 dive out of the cave. The low visibility and tight spaces encountered in the dive is widely expected to cause panic during the journey as well.
Behavioral Skills Training is a systematic, science-based, method of teaching skills that place accountability on the instructor. The four main elements of BST include instruction, modeling, rehearsal, and feedback. While expert Navy divers certainly know how to teach diving skills to kids, BST could potentially save precious hours in the process.
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org. 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, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series. Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar. He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues. Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org