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.


49th Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2023

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #27
CE Offered: BACB
In Praise of Methodological Agnosticism
Saturday, May 27, 2023
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
Convention Center Four Seasons Ballroom 2/3
Area: PRA; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Thomas J. Waltz (Eastern Michigan University)
CE Instructor: Anthony DeFulio, Ph.D.
Presenting Author: ANTHONY DEFULIO (Western Michigan University)

Behavior analysts have constructed constraints to limit the sorts of behavior that qualify as behavior analytic research. These community standards are primarily methodological in nature. That is, we limit the methods that are acceptable in behavior analytic research. For example, behavior analysts have a strong preference for single-subject research designs. If a study does not feature a single-subject design, then the community is more likely to judge it as non-behavior analytic. Behavior analysts have benefited enormously from the imposition of these constraints. They have helped to focus scientific inquiry within behavior analysis. They have also helped to differentiate behavior analysis from other related disciplines. And critically, the methodological preferences of the behavior analytic community have produced exceptionally strong empirical and conceptual foundations for the discipline. However, it is not clear that behavior analysts are currently taking full advantage of these strong foundations. Our concepts and procedures are now mature, and it is no longer necessary to appeal to methodology to define our discipline. We are in position to benefit from methodological expansion, but have underexploited this advantage for decades. This has been brought into sharper focus by the professionalization of the discipline and an increase in academic interdisciplinarity. In this social context, new kinds research questions become important to behavior analysts. Our traditional methods are not ideal for answering the full range of new questions. Calls for methodological expansion have increased in recent years, and there is evidence that more behavior analysts are starting to heed these calls. The primary purpose of this presentation is to convince listeners of this claim: Methodological constraints limit progress toward better prediction and control of behavior. An age of methodological agnosticism is upon us. Research questions will and should hold primacy over methods. We will answer our questions by whatever methods are best suited to do so, without heeding historical constraints. So freed, we will be able to answer new kinds of questions, better support practitioners, and increase our impact in modern behavioral science.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

All behavior analysts

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) Identify typical methodological constraints and preferences within behavior analysis; (2) Differentiate between research questions that are ideally suited to traditional methodological approaches and those that are not; (3) Explain potential benefits of methodological agnosticism in behavior analysis; (4) Explain potential costs of strict adherence to traditional methodologies in behavior analysis; (5) Identify examples of methodological expansion in behavior analysis
ANTHONY DEFULIO (Western Michigan University)
Dr. DeFulio is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Western Michigan University, an internationally recognized institution for training and research related to Behavior Analysis, where he teaches a variety of behavior analysis graduate classes and mentors undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students. Dr. DeFulio’s experiences in behavior analysis include provision of in-home services to children with autism, translational research on the development of reading skills in developmentally disabled adults, and conducting basic research on conditioned reinforcement in pigeons. Over the last 15 years, Dr. DeFulio’s research has principally focused on contingency management interventions for promoting drug abstinence and medication adherence. His most recent work involves delivering these interventions remotely, and includes collaboration with DynamiCare Health, Inc., a Boston startup that is dedicated to provision of contingency management services on a national scale. Dr. DeFulio has been the principal investigator of five NIH grants and a co-investigator on many others. His current NIH grant project involves a novel method for disseminating smartphone-based contingency management. He was the 2014 recipient of the APA’s B.F. Skinner Young Researcher Award, and has served on the board of editors for JABA and JEAB. He is currently an associate editor for Frontiers in Psychiatry – Addictive Disorders, and on the board of editors for Perspectives on Behavior Science.



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