Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


45th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2019

Event Details

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Symposium #191
Extending Behavior Analysis Into the Criminal Realm: Mass Shootings, Domestic Violence, and Criminal Profiling
Sunday, May 26, 2019
8:00 AM–8:50 AM
Swissôtel, Lucerne Ballroom Level, Lucerne 1/2
Area: PCH/CSS; Domain: Theory
Chair: James Nicholson Meindl (The University of Memphis)
CE Instructor: James Nicholson Meindl, Ph.D.

Crime and criminal behavior is a pervasive problem apparent across nearly all societies. These criminal behaviors exist on a broad continuum ranging from relatively benign behaviors such as jaywalking to more extreme and damaging behaviors such as murder. Just as there is a range of criminal behavior, there also exist a variety of approaches to explaining and understanding the causes of criminal behavior. This symposium will extend behavior analysis into the realm of criminal behavior by focusing on two extreme criminal behaviors as well as explaining common approaches to understanding these behaviors. In the first talk, Meindl and Ivy discuss mass killings and describe how the behavior may be partially environmentally controlled through media reporting. In the second talk, Templin will analyze domestic violence and intervention through the lens of behavior analysis. In the final talk, Niazi and Dracobly will illustrate how the current approaches to criminal profiling differ from explanations offered through behavior analysis.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): criminal behavior, criminal profiling, domestic violence, mass shooting
Target Audience:

Board Certified Behavior Analysts, graduate level students, faculty

Learning Objectives: By the end of this symposium attendees should be able to 1. Explain generalized imitation and identify specific ways media reporting may influence mass shootings 2. Identify antecedents and consequences that might explain domestic violence and help develop interventions 3. List at least two ways current criminal profiling differs from behavior analysis explanations and identify ways this poses a problem for treatment development.
The Role of Media in Evoking Mass Killings
JAMES NICHOLSON MEINDL (The University of Memphis), Jonathan W. Ivy (The Pennsylvania State University - Harrisburg )
Abstract: A mass killing is a complex behavior that is the product of a range of variables. Recent research suggests one such variable, by showing that when a mass killing occurs there is a heightened chance of another occurring in the near future. This increase in probability has been referred to as contagion and one possible mechanism for contagion may be generalized imitation. Generalized imitation requires the presence of some model to prompt imitation, and this talk suggests media reporting methods as a prominent model inspiring future mass killings. This presentation analyzes mass killings as the culmination of a sequence of thoughts and actions that are influenced by environmental events including media reports of mass killings. Media reporting guidelines are then evaluated and research related to the prevention of suicide and other imitational behaviors to identify reactive and proactive strategies that could minimize the likelihood of one mass killing inducing another.

Domestic Violence From the Viewpoint of Behavior Analysis: An Examination of Violence in the Home


To expand the field of behavior analysis, and out of concern for the public good, we seek out significant social and legal issues. In a 1995 article by David L. Myers, an age-old phenomenon is compared to other types of problem behavior, including potential functions and environmental contingencies. Myers (1995) reviewed how battering can be described within three term contingencies (antecedent, behavior and consequences). Ways that escape, punishment and positive reinforcement play a role. The common interventions to reduce domestic violence and how these can be more effective using behavior analysis. How direct observation can be a methodological barrier for behavior analysts, and some innovative ways it has been overcome. How the issue of domestic violence is an excellent candidate for study within the field of behavior analysis. A 2005 article by Bell and Naugle on why a victim of domestic violence would stay or leave their situation provides information on victim behavior. A reading from the 2014 essay provides details on life in a domestic violence shelter. The concepts of reinforcement, punishment, extinction, behavioral economics and delay discounting are seen in the light of this serious social problem.


Getting Away With Murder: A Comparison of Approaches to Understanding Criminal Behavior

Meena Niazi (Eastern Connecticut State University), JOSEPH D. DRACOBLY (University of North Texas)

Using method analysis and a case study, we compare the criminal profiling approach and the science of behavior in understanding criminal behavior. Criminal profilers emphasize classification (e.g., Crime Classification Manual) via internal psychological constructs (Devery, 2010). Behavior analysts emphasize an organism’s genetic endowment, current environment, history of reinforcement and punishment, and culture (e.g., Skinner, 1969). First, we will compare the two approaches, focusing on history, unique explanatory systems, and peer-reviewed support. Second, we elucidate these difference with a case study of murder. For instance, in a murder with sexual assault, a profiler may hypothesize the murder was based on a desire for power and lust. Therefore, there may be something inherently wrong with the offender’s personality because they inflict physical pain for sexual pleasure. A behavior analyst would look for specific, observable environmental and physiological variables. The murder may have been, in part, schedule induced, as either a side-effect of extinction (e.g., Lerman & Iwata, 1996 ) or (a response to some form of aversive stimulation (e.g., Azrin, Hutchinson, & McLaughlin, 1965). For example, deprivation of a tangible item (e.g., money) or certain physiological sensations (e.g., physical pleasure from sex) may have contributed.




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