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.


44th Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2018

Event Details

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Invited Tutorial #119
SQAB Tutorial: Behavioral Economics and Public Policy
Saturday, May 26, 2018
4:00 PM–4:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, San Diego Ballroom B
Area: SCI; Domain: Theory
PSY/BACB/QABA/NASP CE Offered. CE Instructor: Derek D. Reed, Ph.D.
Chair: Derek D. Reed (The University of Kansas)
Presenting Authors: : STEVEN R. HURSH (Institutes for Behavior Resources, Inc.)

Much of public policy has to do with how to formulate policy to either directly influence human behavior toward some common goal or consider the indirect effects of public policy on human behavior. From a behavior analytic point of view, public policy designed to influence behavior can manipulate discriminative control of behavior through advertising and education, offer reinforcers as incentives to shift behavior toward more productive or healthy choices, or introduce costs or penalties to discourage destructive or unhealthy choices. Underlying nearly all public policy decisions is a need to understand what sorts of things people want—what do people desire and how much will they pay for the things that they desire. Effective public policy harnesses our natural desires and directs them toward more healthy and productive outcomes by offering new and better alternatives, lowering the perceived costs of desired alternatives, and discouraging less desirable alternatives. Framed in this way, we can see that public policy is all about behavioral economics—the science that quantifies the essential value of commodities and defines the cost/benefit relationships associated with those commodities. In this tutorial I will explain scientific principles and methods for quantifying essential value and demand for alternative goods. I will draw on animal studies using drugs as reinforcers, human studies of drugs as reinforcers and other commodities, and studies of both isolated demand for single goods and competing demand between several goods. I will show extrapolations of these principles to public policy to stimulate future research and application beyond the bulk of prior research. I will conclude by demonstrating that impulsive behavior that is also a focus of behavioral economics and public policy is, at its core, another way to look at the relative essential value of goods, with time as the dimension of cost.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

Board certified behavior analysts; licensed psychologists; graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) understand how economic demand is studied as a behavioral process; (2) understand how economic demand can be used to assess the essential value of goods; (3) be familiar with the inter-relationships between demand, choice, and delay discounting; (4) describe how behavioral economics and essential value can be used to help shape public policy.
STEVEN R. HURSH (Institutes for Behavior Resources, Inc.)
Dr. Steve Hursh is President and Chief Scientist of the Institutes for Behavior Resources in Baltimore, MD. He directs research and application efforts on human performance and fatigue, behavioral economics, drug abuse, and cooperative team performance. He is also Adjunct Professor of Behavioral Biology in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His leadership of IBR builds on a distinguished career both as a behavioral researcher and research manager, including 23 years of experience as a scientist in the US Army, serving as the consultant to the Army Surgeon General for Research Psychology, Director of the Division of Neuropsychiatry at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and as a medical staff officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Research, Development, and Acquisition). Dr. Hursh is a recognized co-founder of the Behavioral Economics subfield of Behavioral Psychology. His exponential model of economic demand has been widely adopted for research and analysis of consumer behavior. His research papers have introduced into the behavioral vocabulary a number of standard terms: open and closed economies, demand curves and demand elasticity, unit price, substitution and complementarity, Pmax, Omax, and recently an exponential model of demand that has broad generality across species and reinforcers. His extensions to drug abuse and the framing of drug abuse policy have had a major impact on the research direction of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. The concept of essential value derived from exponential demand has promise as a framework for assessing abuse liability, defining the nature of drug addiction, and more broadly providing a framework for understanding how public policy can shape human behavior. Dr. Hursh earned his B.A. in Psychology from Wake Forest University and Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. Over his 45 years in research, Steve has authored or co-authored over 100 published articles, book chapters, and technical reports, and served as associate editor of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and guest reviewer for numerous other journals.



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