Behavioral Science in the 21st Century

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bSci21 Exclusive Interview with Dr. Benjamin Witts: Editor of Behavior Analysis Quarterly

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Dr. Benjamin Witts
Editor, Behavior Analysis Quarterly
Tell us a little about yourself. What is your background in behavior analysis and could you tell us about your position at St. Cloud?

I actually started in Clinical Psychology. I was earning my master’s degree at a behaviorally-oriented program and I found it odd that most of our readings and texts came from behavior analysts and not clinical psychologists. So I figured if I was primarily learning about behavior analysis from behavior analysts that maybe that’s where I should go! From there I’ve dabbled in just about everything behavior analysis, including bed-wetting, autism, gambling, decision-making, theoretical and conceptual issues, and a whole host of other stuff. That’s what I love about my job—I’m not married to any one interest.


I’m an assistant professor at St. Cloud State University’s ABA master’s program. It’s an unbelievably stressful job with ridiculous (self-imposed) hours… but I love every minute of it! I have a lot of freedom in my position and it has allowed me to support my students’ interests and pursuits in terms of practicum and thesis work. For example, this year alone I am supervising thesis work on nutritional scoring systems in supermarkets, medical checkups for impaired learners, bruxism in young children, music as a type of verbal behavior, and general process work with Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. In other words… I’m never bored!

What is the mission of BAQ?

Behavior Analysis Quarterly’s mission is simple: To disseminate and educate. Behavior analysis is a wide and wonderful field with more areas of interest and expertise than many of our own members realize. BAQ works to help celebrate everything we do and to help others see the tremendous impact we can have on our world. BAQ is about the success story that is behavior analysis and it’s one I am so proud to have been part of.

What is the history of BAQ?

BAQ started almost 25 years ago, though it was called Behavior Analysis Digest. Joe Wyatt started the digest and ran it for over two decades. It is really interesting to look back at the archives, which are available at the Dissemination of Behavior Analysis Special Interest Group page, and see many famous names grace its pages. Joe Wyatt eventually had to step down as the editor, and we worked to transition the digest to my editorship.

During the next year I worked with a team of professionals to consider where we wanted to take the digest. We soon discovered that we were drifting from the digest model to one that more resembled a magazine. We agreed that we were no longer running a digest, and thus we opted to rebrand the effort as Behavior Analysis Quarterly. We still hold true to Joe Wyatt’s vision, and we continue to run a digest portion in the magazine as many have found great value in that effort. However, we’ve added new layers in reporting on current events, ideas, and emerging trends in the field, and in a format that departs from the often stuffy world of journal article publication

Who is involved with BAQ?

Anyone who wants to be involved can be involved with BAQ! We have a diverse group of people who have submitted to the digest, and now the magazine, including clinicians, educators, students, and other professionals. I’m very proud of our editorial board in that we have a program director, three professors, and two student members. We all know how difficult it was starting out as a behavior analyst when wanting to publish or voice an opinion, and we hope that BAQ will serve to help newcomers and experienced authors alike in accomplishing these goals. We survive only by our readers and their submissions, so we welcome any contributions.

Where do you see BAQ in five years?

Right where it is—a completely free, easy to access outlet that serves to celebrate all things behavior analysis!

What would you like bSci21.org readers to take away from this interview?

The larger conversation about the state of behavior analysis of late has done a lot of finger pointing and complaining about the field’s limited scope and recognition. I’m not one to sit and point out flaws and suggest to others what can be done to fix it. I say, if there’s a problem, let’s do something. So this is what BAQ does. It celebrates the breath and power of behavior analysis. It disseminates. It educates. We already have an amazing field; let’s shine some light on it.

How can interested readers get in touch with you and BAQ?

Email is best: benjamin.witts@gmail.com


I hope to hear from you with ideas, suggestions, and anything else you want to throw my way!

Be sure to visit BAQ at baquarterly.com!  

Also, be sure to join bSci21 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and via email subscription at the top of the page.

Working to Quit, Quitting to Work: Drug Recovery and the Workplace

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Chelsea Wilhite, M.A.
University of Nevada, Reno
by Chelsea Wilhite, M.A.
bSci21 contributing writer

The Office of National Drug Control Policy recently honored Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine researcher Kenneth Silverman for his work with drug addiction recovery programs.  Silverman, a professor of psychiatry and a behavior scientist, investigates the efficacy of “therapeutic workplaces” in which recovering heroin and cocaine users have the opportunity to earn wages contingent upon abstaining from drug use. Research results show workers in therapeutic workplaces stay clean longer than workers in other treatment programs.  Furthermore, paying people to refrain from using drugs is highly effective as a long-term treatment, even for chronic drug users.

The idea of cash for quitting relates to behavior analysis on a number of levels:

1) Because access to the opportunity to the workplace where they can earn money and bonuses is contingent upon engaging in behavior other than drug use, the program is reinforcing an alternative behavior.

2) It addresses the delay discounting issue with which many substance abusers struggle (see bSci21’s recent post about the January 2015 special issue of JEAB).  While drug use results in immediate reinforcement, reinforcers in traditional substance abuse programs are far in the future (e.g., you have to stay clean for weeks or months before being able to hold down a job) hence seem to have less value.  Therapeutic workplaces provide near-immediate reinforcement via frequent paychecks and bonuses for working and abstaining from drug use.

3) Furthermore, the therapeutic workplace deals with relapse in accordance with behavior analytic principles.  If a urine test shows no drugs in the person’s system, that person gains access to the workplace and the ability to earn money.  However, if the urine test is positive for drug use, the person does not gain access to the workplace and instead can have another chance the following work period.

4) Researchers have examined some of the externalities (e.g., Biglan, 2009) associated with this approach to drug addiction treatment and found the financial cost alone is less that of other treatment approaches.  Other variables being examined include HIV risk and family poverty levels.

The next logical steps in this line of research would involve further replication and extension of the therapeutic workplace model, including ways to transition participants into more traditional types of employment settings. Dr. Silverman says he is already preparing for the next phase in this line of research.  He and his team are pursuing three models “to apply the therapeutic workplace approach more broadly in society.

What do you think about Dr. Silverman's work?  Let us know in the comments below!  Also, don't forget to join bSci21 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and via email subscription at the top of the page!

About the author:
Chelsea Wilhite, M.A. has always wanted to better understand the world around us.  As a television journalist, Chelsea worked her way up the ranks to produce the number one rated television news broadcast in the Fresno television market, an area covering five California counties.  Along the way, she won two regional news Emmys and a Radio and Television News Directors Award for best news producer.  In an effort to further her understanding of natural phenomena, Chelsea left television after more than a decade, turning to Behavior Analysis.  She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Nevada, Reno.  While behavior science research and instruction is now her primary interest, Chelsea never lost her passion for journalism and regularly contributes to behavior science oriented blogs, magazines, and newsletters.

The Germanwings Crash: An Industry Problem with a Relational Frame Theory Solution.

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Source: https://flic.kr/p/mGNh4V
NBC News recently ran a story on the tragic Germanwings crash that occurred earlier this week.  One of the pilots, Andreas Lubitz, locked his fellow pilot out of the cockpit and descended the plane straight into the French Alps.

The focus of the story was on the mental health screening system in the airline industry. The central question for  behavioral scientists was put nicely by John Gadzinski, an aviation safety consultant — “It doesn’t matter if it’s a person who has an AR-15 shooting out 4 year olds or a pilot who’s going to kill 150 people on an airplane….The question is how do you prevent a statistically unlikely event from catastrophically occurring?”

Across airlines, no consistency exists on mental health screening and most rely on self report, which can be relatively easy to trick. Any time you give someone a standard survey battery, the individual typically has time to formulate socially desirable responses to the items, which could be indicators of how someone wants to be seen rather than true indicators of a individual’s psychological state.

This is where behavior analysts bring something to the table.  For several years, researchers have refined the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure, or IRAP for short. The IRAP basically works like this: a user is presented with a stimulus, which can be a word or an image, such as a person of a particular ethnicity.  Next, the user is presented with a contextual cue, such as “good, bad, hate, love,” etc...  The user then has a very brief amount of time to select a response that is consistent or inconsistent with his/her own relational network, or verbal repertoire (e.g., 0-2 seconds).  The time pressure keeps the user from emitting an elaborated relational response that may be deemed socially acceptable to others who may see the results.  

Thus, the IRAP has been touted as as a new type of lie-detector of sorts in that it is notably difficult to "fake" results and has been used to detect bias on socially sensitive issues such as prejudice.  The idea is that responding in a way that is inconsistent with ones own relational network requires a few extra milliseconds than would responding consistently.

For a great introduction to the IRAP see this article from The Psychological Record, and be sure to check out all of the great resources at irapresearch.org.


Do you have experience with the IRAP?  Let us know if you think it would work for airlines in the comments below.  Also, don’t forget to join bSci21 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and via email subscription at the top of the page!