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.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

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Paper Session #290
Cults and High Control Groups: What Can Behavior Analysis Offer?
Sunday, May 26, 2024
12:30 PM–12:55 PM
Marriott Downtown, Level 3, Independence Ballroom
Area: CSS
Instruction Level: Intermediate
Chair: Theo Fuentes (University of Nevada, Reno)

Cults and High Control Groups: What Can Behavior Analysis Offer?

Domain: Theory
THEO FUENTES (University of Nevada, Reno), Ramona Houmanfar (University of Nevada, Reno)

The cultural practices of high control groups (HCGs) have become increasingly relevant as polarization increases in many domains, such as politics and social issues at the national and international levels. Others might refer to HCGs as “new religious movements,” “emergent religions,” and/or “cults.” HCGs have been a topic of interest in fields such as sociology, social psychology, political science, history, religious studies etc. They have been able to develop some models to recognize these groups and to describe them. However, behavior analysis has not granted HCGs this level of attention. The first step in addressing these societal challenges behavior analytically is to provide a conceptual framework defining the characteristics of HCGs from a behavior scientific standpoint. Our analysis provides a working set of identifying characteristics of HCGs that separate them from other organized groups. This descriptive analysis may provide the basis for a behavior analytic account of the behavioral and socio-cultural contingencies that contribute to identifying and understanding the development and sustainability of HCGs. The analysis identifies levels of severity amongst these groups that should warrant our attention. Additionally, we will discuss the implications for future research in rule-governed behavior, verbal behavior, leadership practices, organized cultural groups, and cultural communities.




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