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

Previous Page


Symposium #364
CE Offered: BACB — 
Applied and Theoretical Explorations of Ethics in Behavior Analysis
Monday, May 29, 2023
12:00 PM–12:50 PM
Convention Center Mile High Ballroom 1A/B
Area: DDA/PCH; Domain: Translational
Chair: Swathi Ragulan (University of Nevada, Reno)
CE Instructor: Swathi Ragulan, Master in Applied Behavior Analysis

Ethics is an important construct in the field of behavior analysis for numerous reasons. However, the utilization of distinct ethical practices and the different theoretical conceptualizations of ethics have only recently began to attract more attention from our field as a whole. In this symposium, we will attempt to offer applied and theoretical applications of ethics and ethical practices. First, Andrea Michaels will describe the current state of ethics within applied behavior analysis via data gathered from a scoping literature review. Next, Will Fleming will discuss a molar, interbehavioral approach with regards to analyzing the ethics of behavior analysis as an applied science. Finally, Dr. Ilene Schwartz will describe how behavior analysts identify ethical dilemmas in practice, how they make ethical decisions, and what resources are used during the decision-making process.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

This symposium is intended for a target audience at an intermediate instruction level. It is encouraged that attendees are familiar with the BACB ethics code, are current on ethics-related literature within behavior analysis, and are also familiar with the philosophical underpinnings of the field to a certain extent. It will also be beneficial for attendees to assess their own professional experiences within behavior analysis and identify potential ethical dilemmas they have previously faced prior to attending this symposium.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) identify and state the recent trends and gaps in the behavior analytic ethics literature; (2) describe the importance of assent in the practice and dissemination of behavior analysis; (3) assess and compared various ethical decision-making processes currently used by practitioners and researchers in the field.
The Current State of Ethics in Applied Behavior Analysis: A Scoping Review
ANDREA NICOLE MICHAELS (University of Nevada, Reno), Abraao Figueira de Melo (University of Nevada, Reno), Donna West (University of Nevada, Reno), Helen Tecle Kidane (University of Nevada, Reno), Bethany P. Contreras Young (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: Ethics is a central component of the practice of applied behavior analysis. Since behavior analysts work toward supporting behavior change in research participants and clients, it is crucial that they do so in a socially acceptable way from both the consumers’ and profession’s point of view. However, there is no such literature review that has identified articles, summarized key themes, or provided guidance for future scholarship. We conducted a scoping literature review that focused on the broad goal of describing the current state of ethics within applied behavior analysis as expressed within peer-reviewed journal articles. Utilizing six databases, we identified 51 articles that met our inclusion criteria. We analyzed each article by extracting data such as: function of article, central topic and purpose, BACB Code references and Code items, and whether the article discussed common ethical principles. We report findings related to clusters of central topics and purposes, percentages for how often each ethical principle is discussed, and data pertaining to different BACB Codes and Code items. This scoping literature review may identify resources for other scholars to employ on a variety of topics. Implications such as gaps in the literature and shifts in content over time are also discussed.
Cultural Reaction Systems of Power: An Analysis of the Ethics of Behavior Analysis as an Applied Science
WILL FLEMING (University of Nevada, Reno), Linda J. Parrott Hayes (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: Behavior-analytic orientations as cultural practices evaluate the utility of constructs on the basis of the scope of human problems they can be effectively used to solve. As such, behavior analysis has largely become an applied science concerned with solving culturally-situated problems. Given how advanced behavioral science has become, this presents certain issues, including the construction of verbal contingencies that maintain response patterns that cohere with services we are able to provide. Our ability to produce demand for our own products using behavioral technology warrants an analysis of the ethics of scientific system construction. To this end, the current paper will use a molar, interbehavioral, and post-structuralist unit of analysis—cultural reaction systems of power—to analyze the ethics of behavior analysis as an applied science. Power relations across various activities that scientist-practitioners participate in will be assessed, and various forms of culturalization in which scientist-practitioners participate in through (1) direct behavior change interventions, (2) the production of scientific products and knowledge, and (3) graduated dissemination processes will be distinguished. Recommendations towards constructing a science that is more cognizant of its participation within power relations will be offered, and the importance of incorporating assent into behavior-analytic dissemination will be discussed.
How Behavior Analysts Make Ethical Decisions: A Qualitative Study
ILENE S. SCHWARTZ (University of Washington), Nancy Rosenberg (University of Washington), Elizabeth Kelly (University of Washington), Kaitlin Marie Kloes Greeny (University of Washington)
Abstract: Behavior analysts (BAs) frequently face professional ethical dilemmas. When faced with these dilemmas, BAs must problem solve and decide how to ethically respond. Though BAs have many tools available to guide their ethical decision-making (e.g., Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts; BACB 2020), little is known how BAs make ethical decisions in practice. We conducted a qualitative investigation of BAs’ ethical decision making to better understand how they identify ethical dilemmas in practice, how they make ethical decisions, and what resources they use during the decision-making process. Implications for behavior analytic practitioners, researchers, and people involved in training and supervising behavior analysts are discussed.



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh