PRESIDENT‘S OPINION STATEMENT
Behaviour analysis and the wellbeing of the people of Europe
The European Association for Behaviour Analysis (EABA) was founded in the year 2003 and has members from European countries, as well as non-European countries. The founding and growth of the EABA is one of many important developments as people all around the globe have come to realize the importance of the science of behaviour analysis. Today, behavioural insights are used to address a full range of important learning, behavioral, and societal issues. EABA has individual members as well as affiliated memberships of many other national or regional associations for behaviour analysis in Europe.
Behavior analysis is the science that focusses on ‘behaviour’ as its subject matter. Behaviour analysts have identified and researched the behaviour of living organisms, from a simple cell to the largest mammals and everything in between. Behaviour analysis encapsulates three distinct but related fields: (1) Philosophy of the science: Radical behaviourism (as distinct from methodological behaviourism). (2) Basic experimental research: Experimental analysis of behaviour. (3) Applied research: Applied behaviour analysis (ABA). Some look at delivery of ABA based services as a fourth field.
Behaviour analysis has provided unprecedented knowledge about how to solve human problems in diverse interpersonal and social conditions and how to achieve socially important outcomes, whether at the individual, group, or societal level. Yet, that there are many distorted notions of behavior analysis.
The unprecedented success of behaviour analysis in supporting skills development of persons on the autism spectrum has led to a distorted view that applied behaviour analysis (ABA) is a therapy for autism while others believe ABA, or more precisely, specific ABA based procedures based on BF Skinner’s analysis of verbal behaviour, is a new type of language therapy; still others think ABA is an intervention for behavior problems that is only effective in very few cases and therefore seldom appropriate. It is also believed that the effects of behavioral interventions are only temporary, and that its effects are mostly acquired by the systematic use of aversives or punishment. Some people even believe that behavioral interventions can only be used in institutions where patients or inmates do not get opportunities to exercise ”free will”. Similarly, some people believe that for the same reason behavioral interventions are only appropriate with children with disabilities. Still others believe that behavioral interventions should not be used in schools because they systematically brake down the motivation to learn. It is troubling how often distorted notions of behavior analysis are encountered and unfortunately systematically disseminated. The vast research literature in behavior analysis has proofed all these distorted notions to be wrong. Unfortunately, many seem to be unaware of this fact. These (and other) distorted notions result in devaluation of the knowledge base of behaviour analysis with serious consequences for people in Europe and beyond who are denied access to the most effective, empirically developed interventions based on the science of behavior analysis.
Behavior analysts are indeed able to solve so many problems in ways that were not clear or well-understood a few decades ago. In fact, applied behaviour analysis has made significant contributions in the areas of education, staff training and performance management (including safety behaviour and safety culture in workplaces). Moreover, community interventions based on behaviour analysis have led to increases in traffic safety, healthy food choices in elementary school children, and environmentally-friendly behaviour, as well as to improvements in very early tactual breast cancer detection. Behavioral interventions in the rehabilitation of people with brain injuries, and in the treatment of emotional, behavioural, and health problems are also used frequently with great outcomes. The list continues to grow.
One of the major contributions of applied behaviour analysis has been successful treatment of children with developmental disabilities and particularly with autism, where unprecedented gains have been made.
The knowledge that behaviour analysis has produced is readily available in books, scientific journals, and in universities around the globe, where the science is taught and practiced.
Education and training
The number of universities around the world that have established programs of study in behaviour analysis is rising steadily. At the same time, the number of scientific journals that publish behaviour analytic work has also increased, as has membership in behaviour analytic associations universally. Europe has been a party to this tremendous growth in awareness of behaviour analysis, both in the basic and in the applied sciences. The basic science of behaviour analysis has led to very important discoveries not only in experiments with simple organisms as participants but also with humans. Enormous progress has been made in understanding complex human behaviour, for example, on the learning processes involved when humans learn to communicate with language, e.g., in the area of verbal behaviour. Significant progress has also been made in understanding the processes involved in comprehension, classification and re-classification, generalization, memory, and problem solving. More importantly, knowledge on these processes has been used to develop techniques that are used to help those who struggle with difficulties of learning in these areas. Hence, this knowledge is not only theoretical but can be directly translated into effective applications.
Education and training in behaviour analysis has become an important issue in the field. Training should be accessed through University courses at the appropriate level of practice (Undergraduate or Postgraduate). Obviously, short courses do not suffice to train professionals in any field. No reasonable person would seek the services or condone the hiring of a physician or an engineer who does not have the proper university training and professionally supervised practical experience in the application of the basic science or principles upon which those professions rely. It is a strange and disturbing fact that this sensible requirement is not imposed when persons that are to be responsible for enacting significant changes in the behaviour of people are employed! Too often, no evidence of knowledge of learning principles is required, nor of skills in the professional application of those principles, in persons who are in charge of solving socially significant human problems.
EABA endorses behaviour analyst qualifications as developed and set out by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (www.bacb.com). There is a shortage of fully educated and trained behaviour analysts across all of Europe.
EABA supports BACB standards by disseminating information about approved training courses on the webpages and in the social media. It is high time that we recognize that despite the aforementioned gains of recent years, the citizens of Europe are as yet routinely denied access to the benefits of applied behaviour science in public service and to education about the science. The continent’s universities, with but a few exceptions, are failing to provide the scientific advancement and the training of basic and applied behaviour analysts that are essential to enhancing the welfare of its people.
EABA supports students of behavior analysis by offering student fees for membership and conferences, as well as hosting B.F. Skinner Foundation Research Graduate Awards for experimental as well as applied graduate student research.
EABA organizes a bi-annual conference as well as a bi-annual summer school that focus on the dissemination of findings from research and practice of behaviour analysis as well as accurate up-to-date training for professionals. Continued education credits are available at these events.
I urge us all, whether we are teachers, students, administrators, or professionals to work together to try to ensure that a deserving public receives the full benefits of a natural science of behaviour. Let us all become advocates of the science of behavior analysis, not only in any one particular area but of the whole science. Basic science programs in the field should be established and developed as well as programs emphasizing service delivery. The basic science of behaviour analysis needs to exist and grow if the applied science is not to become stagnant. Education and training for future professionals also has to be appropriate and sufficient. Let us advocate the science of behavior analysis for a better world.