Behavior Analysis is a natural science approach to studying behavior. What that means is that we study the effects of the environment on behavior. Our focus is on helping people, and solving problems that are important to them or those who care for them. This approach on solving socially important problems has been named Applied Behavior Analysis. We study why people do what they do, and how to change it if it needs to be changed (Daniels & Daniels, 2006).
We’ve all noticed that people act differently in different situations. What we do is study how those different situations affect the way people behave. When people change the way they act to adapt to a new situation, we say that they have learned what works in that situation. So, maybe a better way to describe behavior analysis is to say that we study the effects of peoples’ environments on how they learn.
What is behavior? Some people have criticized our field for only focusing on behavior, and then turning that around to mean that we do not believe in thinking or feelings. That is a myth. We believe that thinking is just as much behavior as running or talking. We define behavior as anything that people do, as a result of interacting with their environments. If you see a certain car drive by that makes you think about a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time, thinking about that person is behavior! It’s just a lot harder to study scientifically, because it can’t be measured directly. But being scientists, we want to understand how peoples’ thinking affects the way they act, and also how the way they act affects how they think.
How do we know if the person’s behavior has changed? We measure it. Like any science, we rely on measurement to assess progress and make decisions. When we’re studying something like a new treatment approach, we use research designs that tell us definitively whether a change has occurred. We don’t have to rely on surveys or what people say, we measure the effects of our interventions to assess whether an individual has benefited from our interventions. In our opinion, measurement and being able to assess effects for an individual are the greatest contributions of behavior analysis. If what we do has a positive effect, we maintain it and then work to decrease our client’s reliance on our help. If what we is not working, we find out why and modify our plans accordingly.
We strive to find out why someone is doing (or not doing) something, and then to help them to maintain their progress with only minimal assistance. What this means to you is that if you have us help you or your organization, we will do everything we can to help you understand the why the problem is occurring, and to develop effective interventions that produce measurable improvement.
Daniels, A. C., & Daniels, J. E. (2004). Performance Management: Changing Behavior That Drives Organizational Effectiveness (4th Ed.). Performance Management Press: Atlanta, GA.