Archives for January 2016

Cultural awareness in behavior analytic service provision

Applied behavior analysis is a highly social endeavor.  Behavior analysts might work within clients’ homes or schools, or directly with organizations to promote meaningful behavior change.  In this sense, the provision of behavior analytic services is social, as high levels of social interaction are typically required for the job.  To effectively promote behavior change, behavior analysts must pay close attention to both the behaviors of interest and their surrounding environments.  Our descriptions of behavior focus on what our clients are doing.  However, the actions of others represent a large component of our clients’ environments.  This relationship between client behavior and other people’s actions also contributes to the social nature of our profession.

Social MediaThe design and implementation of effective behavior change programs will necessarily include supports from the individuals making up our clients’ environments.  In order to garner that support, behavior analysts must be both aware and sensitive to their needs, in addition to those of our clients.  This task becomes more difficult when working with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.  This post will discuss some strategies to facilitate the successful provision of behavior analytic services among culturally diverse populations.

Let’s begin by answering the following question.

What is culture?

Skinner (1971) defined culture in terms of behavior.  That is, a culture is the collective behavior of a group of people.  These behaviors persist due to shared values (i.e., reinforcers).

A practitioner might first begin her pursuit of cultural awareness by identifying her own cultural practices and values (Salend & Taylor, 2002).  Since cultures consists of common behaviors among groups of people, a practitioner might continue her pursuit of cultural awareness by obtaining general information about relevant cultural practices from other members of the culture.  One might also seek the assistance of behavior analysts who have experience with the culture.  In this manner, the practitioner becomes informed about general cultural practices and values.  The practitioner may also take these factors into consideration when conducting behavioral assessments and making treatment recommendations.  Once the practitioner has identified the behaviors and values of her own culture and familiarized herself with those of potential relevance to the client, the practitioner can examine and resolve conflicting features that may exist between the two perspectives.  Although cultures are defined by the behaviors exhibited among a group of people, one must also be careful to not assume all members of a specific culture behave similarly.

At this point, you might be wondering –  if a culture is defined by common behaviors and an individual within a specific culture might not engage in all of the customary behaviors, how do I determine which cultural components are relevant to my client?

The identification of relevant cultural factors can be incorporated into the functional assessment process.  Salend and Taylor (2002) recommend the inclusion of family, community members, and other professionals who are familiar with the client’s cultural background.  Interviews might include questions related to the client’s family and community dynamics. Information regarding religious preferences and access to community resources may assist the practitioner in developing treatment strategies (Fouad & Arredondo, 2007).  Collaborations with family and community members might include the development and prioritization of goals, as well as the identification of preferences related to potential intervention strategies.  During the assessment process, the practitioner might also collect information about the client’s individual and shared interests, hobbies, and preferences.  A functional assessment that collects information about collective behaviors and shared values in addition to individual behaviors and reinforcers should equip the practitioner with relevant information and enable the delivery of effective behavior analytic services to culturally diverse populations.

In summary, a behavior analytic practitioner might consider the following strategies when working with culturally diverse populations.

  • Identify your own cultural practices
  • Become familiar with general features of the client’s culture
  • Identify factors relevant to the client’s specific culture via the inclusion of community members in the functional assessment process

What strategies have you used to become more culturally aware?  Share them below and keep an eye out for more from BAM Network!


Fouad, N. A., & Arredondo, P. (2007). Implications for Psychologists as Practitioners. In, Becoming culturally oriented: Practical advice for psychologists and educators (pp. 51-64). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Salend, S., & Taylor, L. S. (2002). Cultural perspectives: Missing pieces in the functional assessment process. Interventions in School and Clinic, 38, 104-112.

Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Indianapolis, IN: Hacket Publishing Company Inc.