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.


46th Annual Convention; Washington DC; 2020

Program by : Saturday, May 23, 2020


Symposium #108
CE Offered: BACB
Diversity submission Behavioral Economics and Verbal Behavior Mash-Up: Investigations of Broader Behavior Analytically-Rooted Societal Impacts
Saturday, May 23, 2020
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, Level M4, Liberty N-P
Area: CSS/CBM; Domain: Translational
Chair: Victoria Diane Hutchinson (Saint Louis University)
CE Instructor: Victoria Diane Hutchinson, M.S.

The present symposium explores the ways in which verbal behavior and behavioral economics may shed light on some of the larger societal problems we face as humans. In the first presentation, we empirically explore RFT-based conceptualizations of gambling behavior beyond those of equivalence to frames of comparison and the ways in which those contextual variables (along with our own verbal behavior about them) may push around our behavior. Second, we'll address conceptually-cutting-edge perspective, wherein we propose different interventions for distinct repertoires within what we might broadly consider, impulsivity. Finally, we explore delay and social discounting within the context of climate change, and the need for modern behavior analysis to hold a seat at the table of discussions around sustainability initiatives.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): Gambling, Impulsivity, Sustainability
Target Audience:


Learning Objectives: Describe how behavior science can contribute to solving complex social issues Identify self-rule formation through contextual control, in a gambling context. Attendees will be able to describe how different forms of impulsivity likely involve different behavioral repertoires and therefore will likely respond differently to different treatments
Diversity submission Derived Rule Following and Relational Framing in a Gambling Context
(Applied Research)
VANSHIKA GUPTA (Saint Louis University), Alyssa N. Wilson (Saint Louis University)
Abstract: Previous research on derived rule following has shown that participants will switch their response patterns following discrimination training, and will adhere to new rules established during training even contingencies do not match the new rules. However, this research has only included equivalence class formations. Therefore, the current study sought to replicate and extend this research to include relational frames of comparison (i.e., more/less than). During a slot machine task, three recreational gamblers wagered on one of two slot machines with equal payout rates, each identified by an arbitrary stimulus covering the payout rates. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three legs within a multiple-baseline design with predetermined phase lengths. Following baseline, participants completed a match-to-sample program where contextual cues of more/less than were paired with the arbitrary stimuli used on the slot machines. Tacting of participant’s self-rule was measured using a fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice test, before and after training. Following training, two participants altered their response options to play on the slot machine paired with the contextual cue of ‘more than’, and played less on the machine paired with the cue ‘less than’. Further, all three participants responded with 100% accuracy on the self-rule tests following training.
Diversity submission 

Behavioral Conceptual Analysis of Two Dimensions of Impulsivity: Impulsive Disinhibition Versus Impulsive Decision-Making

YI YANG (University of Southern California), Jonathan J. Tarbox (University of Southern California; FirstSteps for Kids)

Impulsivity is a multifaceted construct, including inability to wait, rapid action without forethought, and an inability to inhibit inappropriate behaviors. In behavior analytic research, impulsivity is often studied by examining choices between smaller-sooner reinforcers over larger-later reinforcers, as in delay discounting. However, researchers have begun to acknowledge what could be an important distinction, between ‘‘impulsive disinhibition,’’ e.g., Go/No-Go tasks, and ‘‘impulsive decision-making,’’ e.g., Delay-Discounting tasks (Reynolds, Ortengren, Richards and de Wit, 2006). This presentation will conduct a radical behavioral conceptual analysis of this distinction and identify the separate implications for both repertoires of behavior, both for studying them in the lab, and for application to socially significant behavior. In particular, it seems probable that different intervention procedures may work for addressing the two different repertoires. For example, present moment attention training may help individuals focus on moment-to-moment self-control, as in go/no go tasks, whereas values-based interventions may help individuals behave with respect to longer-term self-control tasks, such as delay discounting.

Diversity submission 

Delay Discounting and Social Discounting With Climate Change Policy Preference

CELESTE UNNERSTALL (Missouri State University ), Jordan Belisle (Missouri State University)

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, considerable changes in human behavior are needed to curb the impacts of climate change. Current estimates suggest that we may reach the climate point of no return (PNR) by the year 2035 assuming a 2% increase in the relative rate of no emission consumption. We describe several studies conducted by our research lab from a Behavioral Economic and Relational Frame Theory synthetic framework that address preferences for policies that attempt to limit or constrain CO2 emissions by affecting human action. The first series of studies evaluate policy preference to delay PNR as analogous to monetary discounting of reinforcer loss. Results show that people discount high emission commodities similar to currency. Results also show that redistributive policies may generate greater policy support and willingness to forego high emission commodities in service of the value of climate change sustainability. The second series of studies extend this model by directly comparing policies developed by politicians seeking presidency in the upcoming US election, as well as embedding measures of social discounting. Results again support preference for redistributive policies and that policies that redistribute reinforcement locally are more likely to be accepted and produce greater willingness than policies that seek to redistribute reinforcement internationally. These series of studies speak to a need to inform policy with modern advances in applied behavior analysis.

Symposium #142
CE Offered: BACB — 
Diversity submission We ARE Acting to Save the World: Behavior Analysis Addresses Systems-Level Problems
Saturday, May 23, 2020
4:00 PM–5:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, Level M4, Liberty N-P
Area: CSS/PCH; Domain: Theory
Chair: Richard F. Rakos (Cleveland State University)
Discussant: Richard F. Rakos (Cleveland State University)
CE Instructor: Sarah M. Richling, Ph.D.

Skinner (1987) stressed that acting to solve the world’s problems required changing the environment of which the problem-solving behavior is a function. In the ensuing decades since he called on behavior analysts to become more involved in system level change, the relevant environment did change – e.g., the introduction of new or stronger journals, organizations, researchers, grant programs, etc. – and behavior analysis matured into a discipline that now applies its theoretical and methodological approach to the remediation of social and cultural problems. This symposium presents a sample of current behavior analytic work addressing systems-level change, with presenters drawn from chapter authors of the forthcoming book Behavior science perspectives on culture and community (Mattaini & Cihon, Eds.). Presenters will discuss behavior analytic advances in promoting environmentally sustainable practices, moderating problematic climate change via both community organizing models and working with the corporate sector, fostering social justice through research and clinical practice, and engaging in activism and advocacy efforts to promote progressive social change. The four topics are interrelated with each other and, combined with discussant remarks and 20 minutes for audience questions, will offer a rich introduction or update to cutting edge applications of behavior analysis to saving the world

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

Graduate students and professionals

Diversity submission 

Taking Our Seat at the Table: Behavior Analysis and the Advancement of Global Sustainability

BRETT GELINO (University of Kansas), Tyler Erath (University of Kansas), Derek D. Reed (University of Kansas)

The humans of today are among the most important to share the Earth. The efforts that lay ahead—reducing our carbon footprint, preserving our natural landscapes, drastically changing our resource consumption—are likely to yield outcomes we may never directly experience. Although technological ingenuity will be critical, efforts by behavioral scientists to encourage sustainable lifestyles will be among the leading means by which to proactively maintain Earth’s habitability. In this vein, behavior analysis has a rich history of work promoting sustainable living. We conducted a systematic review of behavior analytic research in sustainability using key phrases derived from leading climate and Earth science reports (e.g., Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). We coded the resulting fifty-two empirical studies published across six primarily behavior analytic journals according to intervention methods and target behavior to reveal gaps in the existing literature. The goals of this presentation will thusly be to (a) summarize the efforts of behavior analysis to-date in the areas of sustainable living, (b) highlight areas for which empirical research is lacking, and (c) highlight areas where future behavior analysts can make the most meaningful contribution to advance global sustainability

Diversity submission 

Global Warming: Behavior Options Ahead As We Approach Two Degree Celsius Limit

MARK P. ALAVOSIUS (Praxis2LLC; University of Nevada, Reno)

Global warming (GW) will continue to accelerate unless exceptional efforts are taken soon to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. Increasingly dire consequences are apparent now across the globe. GW is a behavioral problem at its root -- a "super wicked problem" whose solutions seem unsolvable within the time available for action. A science of the behavior of individuals is relatively clear about the contingencies that influence individuals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and behavior analysis has made significant contributions to our understanding but has little impact on the problem, given the lack of evidence on strategies for influencing entire populations. This talk outlines a theoretical account of the behavior of individuals and the practices of organizations relevant to the trajectory ahead. The challenge for the behavioral science community is to identify, understand and manage the variables that will bring about massive, crucial changes in individual behavior and organizational action to prevent further warming or help prepare for what lies ahead. Prevention may be beyond behavior science community skill set, but successes in applications of behavior analysis suggest that this community may be orchestrated to address behaviors needed for adaptation to a warming planet and resilience during climate crises.

Diversity submission Creating Spaces for Social Justice
SHAHLA SUSAN ALA'I (University of North Texas)
Abstract: We are a collective of faculty and students in a community of practice designed to learn about social justice. Our disciplines are Applied Behavior Analysis, Women’s and Gender Studies, Applied Anthropology and Evolutionary Anthropology. Our personal identities are diverse and complicated. We gather formally about once a week to have conversations that are placed in the context of our daily lives and scholarship. In our conversations, we introduce and explore our conceptual, methodological and praxis perspectives. The conceptualizations we share are based within a fluid framework involving womanist, behaviorist and anthropological constructs. Our methods are participatory and include direct observation and qualitative strategies. The praxis is our daily effort, activism, and applied research. All these efforts have resulted in a collective shaping process that has progressed our understandings and actions in the realm of social justice. It is an uncomfortable and cherished space.
Diversity submission 

How Behavioral Scientists Find Their Global Voice: Activism, Advocacy, Accompaniment, and Policy Change

SARAH M. RICHLING (Auburn University), Jose Ardila (University of Nevada)

A wide array of populations and communities are trapped in complex, multi-level systems of interlocked behaviors that offer no clear path toward dignity and social justice. The impact behavior analysts can have with progressive social change is enhanced through the strategic adoption of three key repertoires: activism, advocacy, and accompaniment (AAA) and a thorough analysis of evidence-based policy change efforts. Understood as value-oriented practices whose effects are primarily observed at the systems level, activist activities involve building knowledge about issues impacting various social communities and engaging in on-going efforts to improve the quality of life on a large scale. Advocacy and accompaniment actions are functionally related to these values, which are discrete plans of action with specific operationalized outcomes. AAA efforts may be enhanced with support from the behavior analytic community, armed with evidence-based strategies that effectively produce policy change, and more importantly, improvements to quality of life for society at large. In this presentation we provide a conceptual analysis of social change efforts and provide suggestions for establishing systemic behavioral change as an aggregate product of the behavior analytic community.

Invited Paper Session #152
Diversity submission The First Carbon Based Valley to Create Community, Social and Sustainability: Using Behavior Sciences for Population Level Change
Saturday, May 23, 2020
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, Level M4, Liberty I-L
Area: CSS; Domain: Service Delivery
Chair: Thomas G. Szabo (Florida Institute of Technology)
CE Instructor: Thomas G. Szabo, Ph.D.
Presenting Author: DENNIS EMBRY (PAXIS Institute)

The Wright Brothers first powered flight by a human lasted 12 seconds in 1903. A year later—using processes of variation, testing in the real world, and selection—the Wright brothers had an airplane that flew for 90 minutes—an improvement of 450 times. Today, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner—my favorite aircraft with nearly 3 million air miles between American, United and the deceased Pan Am in my life—can fly straight up during takeoff and fly from New York to Sydney non-stop. The aircraft improved a million times over since the first powered flight, and a result of continuous variation, testing and selection.

Applied Behavior Analysis, as conceived by Don Baer, Mont Wolf, and Todd Risley, was a technical methodology to achieve greater good that philosophers of many stripes posited. The contingencies of reinforcement on behavior analysts, determine how well and thoughtful the behavioral technology gets selected to achieve the vision conceived my dissertation advisors.

Reading through the older Journals of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA), it is clear that many of the second-generation grad students, like me, were thinking and testing ABA for improving all manner social and behavioral ills. If you flip through those JABA’s, you can find all sorts of studies that could have been turned into commercial, real-world products and services that could have made an enormous beneficial change in our precious blue water and green jewel in space and for its inhabitants. That said, most of the contingencies, were and still are, for publications and grants, rather than real-world change. Outside of that, today, the major employment is for behavioral specialists working with children with Autism or other disorders.

Only a few ABA “products” are true large-scale enterprises, one of those being the PAX Good Behavior Game® and Triple P Parenting both touching millions of people. Both PAX GBG and Triple P have deep roots in the original science, but are both sold, trained, and supported around the world to very diverse customers.

My talk is about how to build the First Carbon Based Valley of behavioral scientists (mimicking the Silicon Valley) to develop, test and disseminate practical, proven, cost-effective strategies rooted in behavioral science to be scaled up, sold, implemented well with sustainable effects on human wellbeing for whole populations—not just private practice clients or persons with diagnoses. I will use examples of the population-level strategies I’ve built my career on: working with Sesame Street, Implementing a National Safety Program in New Zealand, state-level multiple baseline on tobacco control, parenting interventions, mission readiness involving military families, reducing county-wide meth use, and, of course, the Good Behavior Game. All of this has been done in the context of a for-profit business engaging in continuous improvement based on the principles of applied behavior analysis.

My call to the audience is to create the First Carbon Valley—linking early career and established career behavioral scientists to better the world with commercialized, continuously-proven behavioral science. I am willing to help start and support this effort, which we have already begun to do informally.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

Board certified behavior analysts; licensed psychologists; graduate students. 


Dennis D. Embry received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas, focused on using ABA for population-level efforts with Sesame Street and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety—ultimately implementing that work throughout New Zealand. Dr. Embry is president/senior scientist at PAXIS Institute in Tucson, and co-investigator at both Johns Hopkins Center for Prevention and the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.  Founded in 1998, PAXIS Institute is an international prevention science company, focused on preventing mental, emotional, behavioral and related physical disorders at population-level. He is a SAMHSA/CMHS National Advisory Council member, the board of the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, and the scientific advisory board of the Children’s Mental Health Network. In the 1990s, he implemented the first RCT at population-level to reduce youth violence (PeaceBuilders) using ABA principles. In 1999, he began replicating the longitudinal Hopkin’s studies of the Good Behavior Game. Today Dr. Embry’s prevention efforts affecting more than one million children in 38 states, multiple provinces of Canada, and EU countries with multiple studies showing population-level reduction of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders using PAX GBG and evidence-base kernels. As grad student, Dr. Baer (his advisor) asked Dennis why he wanted to study ABA having a political and history background, the answer: “I want to use science to make our world a better place for children.”

Business Meeting #166
Diversity submission Behavior Analysis for Sustainable Societies (BASS) Business Meeting
Saturday, May 23, 2020
7:00 PM–7:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, Level M1, Georgetown
Chair: Julia H. Fiebig (Ball State University; ABA Global Initiatives LLC)
Presenting Authors:
The behavior analysis for sustainable societies (BASS) special interest group was formed to advance applications of behavior analysis to environmental issues that contribute to the development of solutions to climate change, pollution, overconsumption of resources, and imbalances in environmental sustainability. Objectives include to (a) encourage and support research that promotes the application of behavior analysis to green/environmental issues, (b) collaborate with environmental scientists, environmental groups, and other SIGs within ABAI who have an interest in addressing behavior change and sustainability/environmental issues, (c) disseminate research and practices that support solutions to environmental issues through the application of behavioral interventions, (d) develop curriculum, textbooks, and additional educational resources that address sustainability and the application of behavior analysis, (e) compile resources for individuals interested in behavior change and environmental issues, and (f) develop an information base of current effective practices/initiatives, government policies, and employment for behavior analysts interested in behavior change and environmental issues. The business meeting is open to anyone interested in sustainability and environmental issues
Keyword(s): climate change, sustainability
Expo Poster Session #182
Diversity submission Associate Special Interest Groups
Saturday, May 23, 2020
8:00 PM–10:00 PM
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level 2, Hall D
127. Autism Special Interest Group
JUSTIN B. LEAF (Autism Partnership Foundation; Endicott College), Joseph H. Cihon (Autism Partnership Foundation; Endicott College), Mary Jane Weiss (Endicott College), Robert K. Ross (Beacon ABA Services), Ian Melton (Endicott College, Journeys Behavior Learning Center), Britany Melton (Endicott College)
Abstract: The purpose autism special interest group was developed to 1) promote evidence based practices in regard to treatment for individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), 2) promote best practices as it relates to procedures/interventions based upon the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as it relates to individuals diagnosed with ASD, 3) help individuals diagnosed with ASD, families of individuals diagnosed with ASD, and consumers to identify components of evidence based practices, quality behavioral intervention, and effective treatments, 4) help protect individuals diagnosed with ASD and their families from ineffective, non-evidence based, and/or potential harmful treatment(s), 5) serve as a scientific and professional reference and networking group for its members, and 6) organize an annual meeting to provide a forum for discussion of the affairs of the SIG.

Acceptance and Commitment Training and Psychological Flexibility Special Interest Group

EVELYN RACHAEL GOULD (McLean Hospital | Harvard Medical School; New England Center for OCD and Anxiety; FirstSteps for Kids, Inc.), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

The ACT and Psychological Flexibility Special Interest Group was launched in 2018. This paper provides an overview of the current SIG Board and initial SIG initiatives, including various committees and task forces. Initial actions included developing the SIG mission, name and objectives, reviewing leadership selection and structure, recruiting nominations for a new board, and communications and activities initiatives.

129. Behaviorists for Social Responsibility
RICHARD F. RAKOS (Cleveland State University), Jose Ardila (University of Nevada), Traci M. Cihon (University of North Texas), Kendra Combs (Sparks Behavioral Services), Sarah M. Richling (Auburn University, Mark A. Mattaini (Jane Addams College of Social Work-University of Illinois at Chicago), Jomella Watson-Thompson (University of Kansas), Holly Seniuk (Behavior Analyst Certification Board)
Abstract: Behaviorists for Social Responsibility is the Association for Behavior Analysis International's oldest Special Interest Group, dating back to 1977 as Behaviorists for Social Action. The group offers behavior analysts the opportunity to meet other behavior analysts with progressive social and political perspectives, to develop programming in the convention and field that advances progressive social problem solving, and to provide prompts that facilitate research and applied interventions that address progressive solutions to a wide range of social problems and issues. Behaviorists for Social Responsibility recently transferred the peer-reviewed open-access journal Behavior and Social Issues to ABAI, so now concentrates on presenting symposia, workshops, and papers at the annual ABAI convention. It also initiated its Matrix Project about five years, an effort to foster pragmatic, concrete problem-solving interventions in 26 societal sectors, such as education and politics. A goal of the Matrix Project is to interest additional behavior analysts to join Matrix teams working in the initial sectors. Behaviorists for Social Responsibility is an affiliated SIG of ABAI and welcomes all ABAI members to join the discussions and contribute to progressive social change.

Crime, Delinquency, and Forensic Behavior Analysis SIG


Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been useful in addressing societal problems related to the criminal justice field. For example, the role of teaching families in reducing recidivism and the improvement of prison drug programs. ABA has been helpful in guiding the court system in identifying effective sanctions, called graduated sanctions, understanding the effects of behavioral/cognitive-behavioral programs on recidivism, parent training, functional behavioral assessment and team problem solving schools for emotionally and behaviorally disordered students. It has also impacted the assessment of child sexual abuse. Continued advocacy and research are needed to make behavior analytic services available to criminal justice, mental health, military and veterans’ fields and to document the efficacy of behavior analysis in these applications. The Mission of the Crime, Delinquency and Forensic Behavior Analysis Special Interest Group is to ensure that those in the criminal justice fields have access to appropriate, evidence-based, behavior analytic, therapeutic resources to reduce crime and delinquency.




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