What is a metacontingency?

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By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor, bSci21.org

There are contingencies and then there are metacontingencies.  The prefix “meta” suggests something that subsumes operant contingencies to include something more.  This “something more” refers to Interlocked Behavioral Contingencies, or IBCs for short.

IBCs are a cohesive collection of operant contingencies wherein the behavior or behavioral product of one person simultaneously functions as the antecedent or consequence for the behavior of another person.  A general example is an organization.  An organization constitutes the behavior of several people all working in a coordinated fashion to achieve certain performance goals. Most of the time, the coordination of IBCs occur through managers or other leaders influential in policy implementation.

IBCs don’t operate in a vacuum, however. They produce an aggregate product (e.g., a car manufacturer) or service (e.g., an ABA provider), which is intimately connected to a receiving system of consumers, be it individuals or other organizations.  The fit between the aggregate product/service then feeds back into the organization to influence policy within the broader context known as the cultural/organizational milieu, which refers to government regulations, market conditions, and the like.

The first major paper published on metacontingencies was written by Sigrid Glenn (1988) in The Behavior Analyst. The concept underwent a major revision by Glenn (2004) and has since spawned other conceptual articles, most notably Glenn and Malott (2004) and Houmanfar, Rodrigues, and Ward (2010).  Experimental analyses have also been conducted, such as Vichi et al. (2009) and Smith et al. (2011).

Most of you likely work at a provider of Applied Behavior Analysis, which can be thought of as a participant in a metacontingency.  Do you think the concept is useful to your organization’s survival?  Let us know in the comments below.  

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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com.  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at todd.ward@bsci21.org.

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2 Comments on "What is a metacontingency?"

  1. Yes! Thank you Todd. It is important for us to acknowledge that we do not perform in a vacuum. Our behavior as employees and organizations play a role in market conditions, government regulations, and the like. It is paramount that I, as an ABA provider respond to this information as we, behavior analysts as a growing group, cultivate the landscape of behavior analytic services to come.

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