Lasting Behavioral Change: Behavior Analysis Isn't Just Another Unsubstantial Psychology Theory

In my Behavioral Analysis class this semester, we were required to read several research articles detailing various studies conducted within the field of behavior analysis. As this is my major field of interest, I thought it both wise and prudent to share two of the more fascinating studies on my website. Behavior analysis is most commonly associated amongst the general public with rats and a laboratory setting. Pavlov’s conditioning and his dog salivating at the sound of a bell or rats being trained to press levers for food reinforcers most frequently come to mind when asked to give an example of behavior analysis’s capabilities. The field, however, is also extremely capable of creating lasting and effective treatments for people with developmental disorders and addiction.

            Researchers have found that setting gradually lowered criteria within a monetary incentive program to be effective in reducing caffeine intake in excessive coffee drinkers (Foxx & Rubinoff, 1979). High levels of caffeine can produce physiological effects similar to the side effects of high anxiety neurotics and the three participants selected for the study experienced accelerated heart rate, trouble breathing, and twitching and shaking  (Foxx & Rubinoff, 1979).  This type of intervention program begins with an initial baseline in which daily intake of caffeine is measured milligrams. Participants in such an intervention would then deposit a predetermined amount of cash into an account controlled by the researchers. Participants could then earn money for exceeding adjusted goal caffeine levels or lose money for exceeding these weekly goals (Foxx & Rubinoff, 1979). All of the three participants in the original 1979 study experienced a significant decline in their daily caffeine intake and later reported a decrease in the frequency of excessive caffeine symptoms (Foxx & Rubinoff, 1979). This type of intervention could be used with many different types of addicts and is becoming popular as a smoking cessation method.

            Another, more complicated research study was conducted in 1992 involving the instruction of self-management techniques to young, autistic children to increase their instances of appropriate social responses and decrease their aggressive and disruptive behavior  (Koegel, Koegel, Hurley, & Frea, 1992). The children were taught to self-monitor and record instances of appropriate behavior on counters attached to their wrists. As the number of correctly identified appropriate responses increased, researchers presented the children with food incentives to properly reinforce their regulation of their own behavior  (Koegel, Koegel, Hurley, & Frea, 1992). This experiment was conducted across several different settings such as schools, communities, and the clinic. As a result of the study, all children saw a reduction in the number of disruptive behaviors and an increase in the number of positive social interactions in all settings (Koegel, Koegel, Hurley, & Frea, 1992). This allows teachers and therapists to better communicate with children who exhibit autistic behaviors and allows them to more readily teach skill sets  (Koegel, Koegel, Hurley, & Frea, 1992).

            In conclusion, this brief overview of two research studies within the field of behavior analysis was meant to enlighten and amuse anyone interested in better understanding the field. Behavior analytic principles not only apply to the laboratory setting, but also have the potential to create positive and lasting change in the lives of those suffering from addiction or autism.

Works Cited:

Foxx, R. M., & Rubinoff, A. (1979). Behavioral treatment of caffeinism: reducing excessive coffee drinking. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 12, 335-344.


Koegel, L. K., Koegel, R. L., Hurley, C., & Frea, W. D. (1992). Improving social skills and disruptive behavior in children with autism through self-management. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 341-353.