Behavioral Science in the 22nd Century

Behavior Analysis is a parsimonious science that explains human behavior as a function of its’ environmental context (Catania, 2013; De Houwer, Barnes-Holmes, & Moors, 2013). This science defines behavior in measurable observable ways to allow for objective evaluations of the unique contexts under which behavior occurs. The context in which behavior occurs explains the instrumental nature of the behavior for the individual. That is, the need the behavior fulfills for the individual behaving. Context of behavior can be described as what happens before, and what happens immediately after the behavior. The context describes what is often called a functional relationship between environment events and behavior (Catania, 2013). Trying to understand behavior from the perspective of environmental contexts may avoid internal labels for causes of behavior, as well as possible blaming of the individual or community (Skinner, 1972).

           There are additional factors to be considered when analyzing behavior in Behavior Analysis. These include species-specific structures, and species-specific survival responses to specific environmental contexts. For example, certain behavior has been selected genetically over the course of evolution to ensure the survival of the species. This produces specific structures across different species or ethnic groups. The gag response we all experience when we eat rotten food is an example. This looks the same across multiple people and has been chosen over various generations because it guarantees that we all survive, as rotten food could produce some very difficult medical conditions, which could possibly result in death. Similarly, cultural practices are also considered when analyzing behavior. Cultural practices, like individual behavior and genetic predisposed responses, operate around environmental context (Biglan, 1995). The cultural practices are selected due to the survival value such practices affords the majority of individuals within the culture. For example, our cultural environment in the USA selects practices like long summer vacations for students, because many years ago, these practices guaranteed help to harvest crop which provided food and income (Pederson, 2012). Other cultural practices that have value in today’s society include, presidential elections, baby showers, potlucks, block parties etc. Each of these practices occur in specific situations, and have certain preferable consequences for specific cultures.

          As an applied science, Behavior Analysis allows society to focus on individuals and communities within their unique contexts to allow us to change behavior effectively to improve the quality of life for individuals and communities. Many demonstrations of this useful effect exist in literature and the environments around us every day (Altus & Morris, 2009). The traffic light signals and the email notification sounds are some everyday examples of how the powerful principles of Behavior Analysis help us better our lives today. The contextual approach to understanding behavior provided by Behavior Analysis allows for easy integration into other fields of study such as evolution science (Biglan, 2018). By integrating the contextual approach to analyzing behavior of individuals/groups into fields like evolution science, we may be able to understand situations that make behavior/cultural practices more probable, as well as identify their maintaining consequences. This integration may allow for a more cooperative research and practioner community necessary to address cultural challenges such as racism, lack of disability rights, ableism and other social issues. I do not have data to support this, however I believe analyzing these issues from a cultural level while evaluating the context, may allow us to determine the functional relationships between certain cultural practices and our community’s needs. As a result, we may be able to make changes to the maintaining variables of these practices to change such practices effectively. In addition, we may also be able identify the needs fulfilled by these practices, so we can provide them non-contingently, eliminating the need for such practices to occur in the first place.

         As our society moves into the 22nd century, there is a need to harness the powerful empirical findings from our most effective scientific fields to improve our lives. Our societies are not the same welcoming, beautiful and nurturing communities they use to be. Issues such as lack of disability policy, ableism, health care disparity, racism, and pollution to mention a few, threaten the survival of our society as a whole. As LEND trainees, I encourage you to reach out to fellow trainees to learn about their fields and effective scientific advancements in these fields. How can all these findings be combined into a comprehensive research and practice framework? Let us all rely on empirical evidence to drive effective action for all members of the community as a whole. Replicate practices based on empirical evidence, either through research or observable evidence from practice. Welcome diverse opinions and try to examine behavior within its context, it makes a big difference. Here is an interesting website from Behavior and Social issues


Altus, D. E., & Morris, E. K. (2009). BF Skinner’s utopian vision: Behind and beyond Walden Two. The Behavior Analyst32(2), 319-335.

Biglan, A. (1995). Changing cultural practices: A contextualist framework for intervention research. Context Press.

Biglan, A. (2018). Evolution and contextual behavioral science: An integrated framework for understanding, predicting, and influencing human behavior. New Harbinger Publications.

Catania, A. C. (2013). Learning (5th ed.). Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan Publishing. 

De Houwer, J., Barnes-Holmes, D., & Moors, A. (2013). What is learning? On the nature and merits of a functional definition of learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review20(4), 631-642.

Pedersen, J. (2012). The History of School and Summer Vacation. Journal of Inquiry and Action in Education5(1), 54-62.

Skinner, B. F. (1972). Beyond freedom and dignity (No. 04; BF319. 5. O6, S5.). New York: Bantam Books.



 Kwadwo Britwum