Archives for November 2015

Can control be a function of behavior?

Discussions regarding control as a function of behavior tend to be a reoccurring topic on behavior analytic forums.  These discussions typically include a practitioner’s description of a scenario consisting of a client’s engagement in problem behavior following requests to complete tasks that have been identified as high preference activities.  Due to an absence of problem behavior during the client’s independent engagement with the same high preference activities and the presence of problem behavior when these activities are initiated by others, practitioners suggest the client’s problem behavior is maintained by the client’s wish to control his/her environment.

Sad little boyLet’s tackle this problem by first addressing what we mean by ‘control’.  A quick Google search for its definition resulted in the following, “the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.”  That definition sounds reasonable.  However, we are behavior analysts and our explanations for behavioral phenomena should be based on the science of behavior.  So what does our science say about control?  The discussion of control by Cooper, Heron, and Heward (2007) directly references the functional relation.  A functional relation exists when manipulations to one event (the independent variable) can reliably produce changes to another event (the dependent variable).

Let’s apply this definition to the above scenario by asking – What exactly is our client doing when she is attempting to ‘control’ her environment?  In the presence of a specific event (i.e., the practitioner’s request), the client engages in problem behavior (that has produced certain results in the past).  By assessing the situation in this manner, attempting to identify the actual function of the client’s behavior becomes a more apparent solution.

This is a good time to briefly discuss the relevant functions of behavior.  Generally speaking, the purpose of operant behavior is to either make something appear (access via positive reinforcement) or to make something go away (escape via negative reinforcement).  These processes can occur under socially mediated contexts (such as the one described in the scenario above) or automatic ones (which includes sensory stimuli).  This means the client is engaging in problem behavior to either escape the practitioner’s request (regardless if the requested activity had been identified in the past as high preferred) or to access another activity.

The next question to address is – Why is the client engaging in problem behavior in the presence of high preference tasks?  The short answer is

the task is not a high preferred task at that moment.

The presence of various motivating operations (MO) may have reduced the reinforcing efficacy of the specific task.  Here are a few suggestions for why a once high preference task may no longer be preferred when paired with a practitioner’s request.

  • Are you interrupting the client’s engagement in another activity when delivering tasks demands? If so, task interruption might be the problem. The occurrence of a simultaneous, ongoing activity may have reduced the client’s preference for the practitioner requested activity.
  • The client’s preference for specific activities may be sensitive to the time of day. An activity that is high preferred in the morning might not be preferred in the afternoon or evening.  Time of day is the relevant MO in this situation.
  • The client might have a history of others presenting her with aversive tasks. Her history may have generalized to all requests from others.  In this situation, the practitioner’s request is an MO reducing the client’s preference for the activity.

We have discussed why control cannot be the function of behavior, as the term refers to a relationship between environmental events.  We determined the function of problem behavior in the above scenario must either be in the form of escape from an aversive event or access to an appetitive event.  Finally, we discussed the role of MOs in the possible reduction of client tasks preferences.  In a future post, we will discuss some strategies to address the problems listed above.

Do you have questions or comments about this topic?  Share them with us and stay tuned for more from BAM Network!

Reference

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis. (2nd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

How to be an ethical affiliate

Ethics wooden sign on a beautiful dayApplied behavior analysis has become increasingly recognized by consumers as an effective option to address a variety of clinical and professional behavioral needs. As the demand for behavior analytic services has increased, so has the number of professionals seeking board certification in the field. The rising number of professionals in pursuit of board certification has contributed to a higher demand for behavior analytic supervisors and many Board Certified Behavior Analysts are meeting this need by offering remote supervision.

One’s participation in remote supervision will likely consists of circumstances different from an onsite supervision experience. One difference might be the manner in which the supervision process is initiated. The process of seeking out and ultimately selecting a remote behavior analytic supervisor is more likely to include an introduction or referral from a third party. An example of a more traditional third party referral is when a supervisor is referred by another person. A less traditional example, although still very common, includes third party referrals in the form of website advertisements or search engine results. In the latter example, a referral fee (i.e., advertisement fee) is typically paid to the referral source (e.g., the website hosting the advertisement). The former example of a third party referral may also include an arrangement where a supervisor provides a referral fee to the referral source.

BAM Network uses advertising and a referral affiliate program to assist with the marketing of our supervision services.

We recognize that the provision of referral fees for supervision services might be interpreted as a violation of the professional and ethical compliance code. We will address this concern and discuss how behavior analysts may ethically arrange a supervision affiliate program to assist in the marketing of supervision services. Let’s start with a review of the relevant areas of the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts. Section 2.14 represents the most relevant area of concern regarding the provision of supervision referral fees, as it condemns the receipt and provision of gifts and money for professional referrals. Section 2.14 also states that referral sources should provide multiple options in their referrals and should inform clients (in this case, the supervisee) about the relationship between the referral source and referred supervisor. Section 1.04a is also relevant, as it instructs behavior analysts to be truthful and honest.

The primary mission of the BACB is to protect those receiving behavior analytic services via its establishment, promotion, and dissemination of professional standards. The BACB’s compliance code represents one of many efforts to uphold that mission. A strict interpretation of section 2.14 may suggests that the creation of affiliate programs is discouraged. However, the inclusion of objectivity, disclosure, and the provision of options balances out the potential of risk to the supervisee. We will also add that the arrangement of referral fees for supervision services are less likely to result in supervisee exploitation compared to the potential for client exploitation with clinical services. The additional actions of full disclosure from referral sources and referred supervisors, as mentioned above, further reduce the low risk to supervisees. BAM Network’s marketing practices are disclosed and discussed in the contents of this post as an effort to adhere with the professional and ethical compliance code.

In summary, referral sources and referred supervisors can ethically participate in affiliate programs for supervision by doing the following.

  • The referral source and referred supervisor should inform supervisees of relevant affiliate arrangements.
  • The referral source and referred supervisor should arrange referrals in a manner that is of low risk to the supervisee.
  • The referral source should base referrals on the objective needs of supervisees.
  • The referral source should refer multiple supervisors or supervisory organizations when possible.

Do you have questions or comments regarding our marketing practices? Let us know and stay tuned for more from BAM Network!

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A behavior analytic supervisor offers ongoing collaboration

Interracial handshake on gray backgroundWe believe that an excellent behavior analytic supervisor is a MENTOR. Throughout our discussion of this topic, we have listed six characteristics to look for when selecting a supervisor for your behavior analytic experience. We are now ready to discuss the fifth characteristic. A quality behavior analytic supervisor:

Offers ongoing collaboration after the supervised experience has ended.

The characteristic of ongoing collaboration is different from the four characteristics previously discussed, as we are now focusing on supervisory behaviors that occur once your supervised experience has ended. You might ask, why behaviors that occur after the supervision process are relevant to what occurs during the accumulation of behavior analytic experience. Let’s tackle this question by first looking at the Supervised Independent Fieldwork option requirements. Under the Supervised Independent Fieldwork option, one must accumulate 1500 (BCBA credential) or 1000 hours (BCaBA credential) of supervised experience in behavior analysis. The supervisee must accumulate at least 10 hours per week, but no more than 30 hours per week. This means that at the BCBA level, a supervisee that accumulates the maximum amount of experience and supervision may complete his/her Supervised Independent Fieldwork within 50 weeks (roughly 12.5 months). At the BCaBA level, Supervised Independent Fieldwork may be completed within 34 weeks (roughly 8.5 months).

Let’s take a moment to emphasize the time associated with the experience requirements here.
As an individual seeking the BCBA credential, you may do so after working under the supervision of a BCBA in as little as 1 year! Said another way – a BCBA applicant is expected to competently demonstrate a comprehensive behavior analytic skillset after 1 year of supervised work experience!

Within a 1 year time frame, one may develop a behavior analytic repertoire enabling performance at a minimal level of competency. However, ongoing collaboration with your supervisor, as well as with others in the field, is important to your eventual provision of expert behavior analytic services. An adept skill-set is developed over time and is unlikely to be acquired within 1 year of training. A great supervisor is invested in your continued professional development throughout multiple years and will offer continued mentorship to help shape your advanced behavior analytic repertoire.

How do you determine if a supervisor offers ongoing collaboration? For starters, you can simply ask if you can contact the supervisor regarding questions or concerns you might have in the future. Alternatively, a supervisor might invite you keep in touch or seek assistance/advice as needed at the end of supervisory relationship. A supervisor that offers continued collaboration will share his/her contact information so that you can easily reach him/her. The supervisor might also initiate interactions in the form of shared information of potential interest.

BAM Network has helped you identify five of the six characteristics of an excellent supervisor. The very last characteristic is coming up next!

A behavior analytic supervisor reinforces skills

We have reached the point where we are ready to wrap up our discussion on behavior analytic supervision. Throughout this series, we proposed that a top-notch supervisor is a MENTOR and listed six characteristic to look for when searching for a great supervisor.  We have already discussed five of the characteristics in depth and are now ready to discuss the sixth characteristic.  That is, an excellent supervisor:

Group of caucasian white people making hand Thumbs up sign isolated on white background. Like, approval or endorsment concept.

Reinforces the skills necessary to build your clinical repertoire.

Expert behavior analysts are proficient teachers.  Our unique training equips behavior analysts with tools to teach a variety of skills to a vast client-base.  The behavior analytic client-base ranges from individuals with developmental disabilities, students in classrooms, and members of sports teams, to employees of hospitals and big business organizations.  The skills targeted among our broad client-base are equally varied, as those skills are of direct relevance to each setting.  The limitless applicability of the science of behavior change means that behavior analytic techniques are also best suited for building your behavior analytic repertoire.

We mentioned that an excellent supervisor will reinforce skills when building your behavior analytic repertoire.  However, a quality supervisor will also use other strategies, as the process of reinforcement is one of many components involved in a well-designed skill acquisition program.  Essentially, you should expect your supervisor to use the entire range of behavior analytic principles and procedures throughout your supervised experience.   Your supervisor’s use of these strategies will ensure that you competently acquire a behavior analytic skill-set.  Your supervisor’s implementation of various strategies may also serve as a model for how you might use and apply various behavior change procedures.

You are probably wondering what other behavior analytic procedures you might look for from your supervisor?  The following list includes some, but is not meant to represent an exhaustive list of relevant principles and procedures.

  • Reinforcement
  • Prompting
  • Shaping
  • Feedback
  • Modeling and imitation
  • Instructions and rules

BAM Network has guided you through all six characteristics of a quality supervisor.  You are now ready to identify a top-notch MENTOR for your supervised experience.  Stay tuned for more from BAM Network, as we continue to discuss the supervision topics of most interest to you!

A behavior analytic supervisor tests your behavioral repertoire

We have passed the halfway point of our discussion on what to look for in a behavior analytic supervisor!  Up to this point, we’ve covered three of the six characteristics of a top-notch supervisor.  Before we proceed with the fourth characteristic, let’s briefly review the discussion up to this point.  An excellent behavior analytic supervisor is a MENTOR.  It is important that your supervisor 1) measures your skills through demonstrated competencies, 2) exhibits expertise in your area of interest, and 3) navigates you through a competency-based and structured curriculum.  The fourth characteristic of a great supervisor is:

Tests your behavioral repertoire at the onset to identify strengths/weaknesses.

The girl represents in imagination what she strong

This characteristic is closely tied to characteristic 1 (measures your skills through demonstrated competencies), as your supervisor should test your behavioral repertoire by measuring your accurate demonstration of relevant skills.  Testing ones behavior analytic repertoire is also closely related to characteristic 3 (navigates you through a competency-based and structured curriculum), as the skills to be tested should be part of the structured supervision curriculum.

The distinction of this fourth characteristic is related to when the activities associated with characteristics 1 and 3 occur.  It is important that your supervisor assess your abilities at the beginning of your supervision experience.  The thorough and adequate assessment of your current abilities and competencies ensures that you will get the most out of your supervision experience.  Assessing your skills at the onset of supervision is done for the purposes of creating a baseline measure to compare your future progress against.  It will enable your supervisor to spend time targeting skills and concepts that need strengthening.  It will also prevent your supervisor from wasting time on unnecessary instruction.  Essentially, your supervisor’s engagement in this activity provides an additional layer of structure to the already structured supervision curriculum.

Are you wondering exactly how your supervisor might initially test your behavioral repertoire?  You should look for your supervisor to do the following:

BAM Network is getting you closer to identifying the necessary six characteristics of an excellent supervisor.  Stay tuned as we continue the discussion.  Characteristic 5 is up next!

Will Food Labels Help Us Choose Healthier Foods?

Feeling embarrassed. Beautiful lady holding plate with fast-food in one hand and vegetables in another feeling temptation to eat sandwich

In December of 2016, chain restaurants and many food establishments in the US will be mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to display calories associated with their menu items.  The purpose of this mandate is to inform consumers with the goal of decreasing their consumption of high caloric restaurant food items.  Recent research in the area suggests that food labeling might be effective in decreasing customers’ caloric consumption.  However, the projected consumption decreases will likely be due to changes in restaurant menu offerings, rather than changes in consumer food purchasing behavior.

One such study (Bleich, Wolfson, Jarlenski, & Block, 2015) compared the calories associated with food items for restaurant chains that voluntarily displayed caloric information with restaurants that did not list caloric information. The results of the study indicated that throughout 2012, 2013, and 2014, restaurant chains that voluntarily posted caloric information offered lower calorie foods than those that did not display caloric information.  Restaurants that posted caloric information introduced more new food items compared to the restaurants that did not post the information.  Further these new foods also yielded less calories than those introduced by restaurants that did not post caloric information.  Throughout the study, calories associated with food items decreased over time with the restaurants that did not label their foods.  However, the calories remained higher compared to the foods offered by the voluntary labeling restaurants.

Another study (Cantor, Torres, Abrams, & Elbel, 2015) evaluated the effects of food labeling on consumers’ food purchases.  During 2008, 2013, and 2014, the investigators collected data on consumer food purchases from fast-food restaurant chains mandated to display the caloric information of menu items and similar restaurant chains that did not display the calories associated with menu items.  Consumers were also surveyed regarding their awareness of the food labels and the food labels’ impact on their food purchases.  Consumers of the food labeling restaurants reported being more aware of the labels and reported using the information to purchase lower calorie foods.  However, the data indicated no caloric differences in consumer food purchases from fast-food chains with food labels compared to those without food labels.  The survey results also indicated no difference in how often consumers purchased fast-food items. Although consumers of the food labeling restaurants reported being more aware of the food labels, their awareness, as well as reports of adjusting their food purchases decreased over time.

The combined results of these studies suggest the FDA’s mandate for restaurants to display calories associated with menu items will most likely not produce the intended changes in consumer behavior.  However, mandatory food labeling might encourage restaurants to offer healthier, lower calorie food options.  I am guessing these results are not quite what policy makers were expecting, as the stated purpose of the mandate is to inform consumers and promote healthier food choices.

Why is food labeling unlikely to change consumer behavior?

The answer is related to reinforcement and individual food preferences.  The consumption of high caloric food tends to be immediately reinforced by food taste, among other factors.  Menu labeling, on its own, is an antecedent-based intervention.  It does nothing to address the powerful reinforcers associated with eating high caloric foods.  Without the incorporation of consequence-based strategies designed to compete with powerful naturally occurring reinforcers, food labeling is likely to be ineffective at changing consumer food selections.

How might mandating food labels change restaurant menu offerings?

The mandate might do so by altering motivating operations related to sales.  Restaurants currently offering high calorie food options may introduce healthier items in an effort to compete with restaurants already offering healthier options. In this scenario, the mandate would increase the value of having lower calorie food items on the menu.  The mandate might also be indicative of potential increased regulations in the future.  If so, restaurants might introduce healthier food options to avoid further regulations.  In this scenario, the mandate would create an aversive condition that restaurants would attempt to avoid.

Can you think of other behavioral principles that might impede or contribute to the efficacy of food labeling?  Let us know and continue to follow BAM Network!

References

Bleich, S. N., Wolfson, J. A., Jarlenski, M. P., & Block, J. P. (2015). Restaurants with calories displayed on menus had lower calorie counts compared to restaurants without such labels. Health Affairs, 34, 1877-1884.

Cantor, J., Torres, A., Abrams, C., & Elbel, B. (2015). Five years later: Awareness Of New York City’s calorie labels declined, with no changes in calories purchased. Health Affairs, 34, 1893-1900.

Food and Drug Administration, HHS. (2014). Food labeling; nutrition labeling of standard menu items in restaurants and similar retail food establishments. Final rule. Federal register79, 71155-259.

A behavior analytic supervisor navigates you through a competency-based curriculum

Throughout our discussion on behavior analytic supervision, we suggest that the best behavior analytic supervisor is a MENTOR.  We’ve listed six characteristics for you to look for when selecting a supervisor and have provided details about the first two characteristics.   The third characteristic of an excellent supervisor is:

Navigates you through a competency-based and structured curriculum.Close up of woman hands holding clipboard

If you are following our series on behavior analytic supervision, you may have noticed how the term “competency” tends to be repeated throughout the discussion.  Well, here it is again!  We at BAM Network want to emphasize the importance of supervision that focuses on developing your reportoire so that you are a quality behavior analyst.  In order for you to be able to provide the best services for you clients, your supervisor must ensure that you can effortlessly perform the required behavior analytic skills.  Hence, our focus on competency-based performance.

You might be thinking – Is this going to be another discussion about how a supervisor teaches a skill to competency?  Our answer is – not exactly.  This discussion will focus on the addition of an important piece to the provision of competency-based instruction.  A great supervisor will add a form of strategy to your supervision experience in the form of a structured curriculum.

Why is structure so important to the supervision process?  A structured curriculum that is also competency-based ensures that you not only learn to perform a target skill proficiently, but also that you do so in regard to all of the necessary skills.  That is, a supervisor’s use of a curriculum makes it more likely that all relevant skills will be assessed, addressed, and evaluated, and reduces the likelihood that important skills will get overlooked.  You want structure in your supervision experience.  You don’t want the skills targeted throughout your supervision experience to be left to chance.

The provision of a structured curriculum also permits your supervisor to more adequately evaluate your overall performance throughout the supervision experience.  In this case, the curriculum may guide the supervision process through relevant competencies to be assessed and targeted.  Progress throughout your supervision experience in this manner will be indicated simply by you demonstrating more competencies over time.  In addition to the curriculum acting as a guide throughout the experience process, the provision of structure will also enable the supervisor to evaluate your progress against a specific objective goal.  With the use of a structured curriculum at the onset of the experience, both you and the supervisor essentially set a competency-based goal to meet at the completion of the experience.  That is, all of the skills indicated throughout the curriculum should be performed competently by the end of the supervision experience.

Can you believe that we have already covered three of six characteristics present in an excellent supervisor?  We are halfway there and soon enough, you will be fully informed on selecting the best behavior analytic supervisor!  Look out for BAM Network’s next post, as details regarding the fifth characteristic are soon to come.

California’s water conservation efforts: Considerations from a behavioral perspective

The hot summer months are known to plague the western states of the U.S. with drought.  California’s State Water Resources Board attempted to address the problem this summer by issuing state-wide water conservation mandates.  Throughout the months of June through September, the board set cumulative water use reduction goals for individual cities and districts with fines for those who did not meet their goal.  A water use reduction goal of 36% was set for the Coachella Valley Water District.  The board set water reduction goals of 32%, 32%, and 36% for the cities of Indio, Beverly Hills, and Redlands respectively.

Last week, the board issued fines of $61,000 each to the Coachella Valley Water District, and the cities of Indio, Beverly Hills, and Redlands as a penalty for not meeting their water reduction goals.   Responses from residents and business owners, as well as local officials within the areas, reflected discontent toward the mandates and resulting fines.  Constituents felt that their efforts to conserve water had been ignored.  In fact, water consumption data for the fined areas indicated that the areas initially conserved more water during the beginning of the summer.  However, water conservation efforts appeared to decrease throughout the summer.

Graph

Data from California State Water Resources Control Board

Given the importance of water conservation during dry summer months and information regarding the State Water Resources Board’s current attempts to increase water conservation, what are some things the board could consider doing differently next summer?

  • The water resources board attempted to punish wasteful water use within individual cities. When using punishment procedures, one must consider the potential negative side effects and how to address them.  One potential effect of the fining system is resistance to the policy. Residents might be less cooperative when they feel as if they have no options.
  • Punishment procedures require consistent implementation to be effective. In this case, resources could not permit the cities to closely monitor the actions of city residents to consistently enforce the water restriction rules.
  • One must also keep in mind what other events might compete with a proposed punishment procedure. It might be the case that reinforcers for the liberal us of water override the proposed punisher.
  • Issuing strict fines, despite the presence of some progress might result in adverse effects. The distribution of fines, while ignoring a city’s demonstrated water conservation efforts might discourage cities from attempting to comply with future mandates.  As an alternative approach, the board could set monthly water consumption reduction goals and offer incentives when those goals have been met.  The percent reduction of water consumption goal could gradually increase each month to encourage increased water conservation efforts over time.   Perhaps the depicted decreasing trend in water consumption would have looked a little different if strategies aimed at reinforcing water consumption were used.

Can you think of any other strategies California’s State Water Resources Board might use to encourage the residents of California to conserve more water?  Leave a comment below and stay tuned for more from BAM Network.