What Does the Research Say?! ABA Beyond Autism

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Delve into the research on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) beyond autism in this informative post, exploring its diverse applications and effectiveness in addressing a wide range of behaviors and challenges, shedding light on the versatility and impact of ABA in various contexts.

Applied behavior analysis is nearly synonymous with “autism treatment” for many people, and it does not go without reason. There is an extensive body of literature on behavior analytic procedures being effective at reducing or even completely eliminating interfering problem behaviors in individuals diagnosed with autism and other developmental disabilities such as self-injurious behaviors, stereotypies, and aggression to name a few. ABA has also been proven effective in promoting and maintaining the acquisition of important skills including but not limited to toileting, language skills, and independent sleeping. Although the field of developmental disabilities is vital for many practitioners to put forth their energies into, it is definitely not the be all end all for ABA. 

It has been demonstrated through the aforementioned studies that ABA is a powerful tool and when implemented with fidelity by trained professionals, it has the ability to bring about meaningful changes in the lives of those receiving treatment as well as their caregivers. So, if ABA  is so powerful then why is it only used clinically for treatment of developmental disabilities? 

To the surprise of many, behavior analysis is applicable to nearly everything humanly possible. If there is a behavior involved, behavior analysis can be utilized to analyze it! Analyzation of behavior does not have to be limited to autism studies or the BAU though – shout out Criminal Minds fans! 

There are actually multiple branches of behavior analysis. ABA, the one previously discussed, is the one that focuses on implementing behavior analytic procedures to produce meaningful and socially significant change. ABA is the branch that is considered autism treatment. The experimental analysis of behavior focuses on identifying and analyzing the processes that control or influence behavior. Finally, the conceptual analysis of behavior, or behaviorism, analyzes the theoretical and methodological components of behavior analysis. I will also note that these three branches are well-defined and described across multiple sources. However, the 8th Edition ABA Exam Prep Study Manual from Pass the Big ABA Exam lists a fourth branch as behavior service delivery which seems like a subfield of ABA as it refers to behavior analytic procedures being implemented by nonprofessionals of the field. 

So, what else can behavior analysis be used to do exactly? Behavior analysis has and is continuing to demonstrate its effectiveness and ability to be implemented seemingly anywhere. I myself wasn’t aware of the vast potential of behavior analysis until I started my Ph.D. program. An array of settings and fields where behavior analysis has already been shown itself to be beneficial include mindfulness, healthcare not related to developmental disabilities, feeding, pharmacology, economics, evolutionary studies, and classroom management to name a few!

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR8, is an intervention developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn that implements mindfulness and meditation to reduce the intensity of a variety of symptoms experienced by a number of different groups. MBSR is generally an 8-week intervention that is comprised of weekly group meetings, daily guided meditations, keeping a meditation journal, and attending one full-day meditation retreat. MBSR has been shown to reduce symptomology in a number of illnesses including emotional eating, mild heart conditions, fibromyalgia, and depression and anxiety to name a few!

More formally, behavior analysis has been shown to be effective in the treatment of feeding disorders. Charles Fergus-Lowe developed a program called the Food Dudes that implemented a number of behavior analytic techniques that resulted in school-aged children choosing to eat more fruits and vegetables during lunch time meals at school, which in turn benefited the children’s overall health. Behavior analysis is also beneficial in treatment of more severe feeding disorders such as total food refusal and food selectivity commonly seen in children, both typically and atypically developing

Although this particular 1985 study included participants who were diagnosed with developmental disabilities, it focuses on showcasing the differences in behavior reduction between medication uses and implementation of behavior analytic interventions. The study demonstrated that simple behavior analytic contingency management procedures were slightly more effective in reducing each of the participant’s challenging behaviors compared to when medication was given. Additionally, when medication was involved, some behaviors were decreased at the expense of others being increased. 

Aside from the medical and healthcare utilizations, behavior analysis is used as a tool to study economics and consumer behavior in addition to evolutionary theories and sciences that are both used to influence human behavior. It’s totally weird at first, but then it all comes together very cohesively. 

Finally, behavior analysis has been used extensively for classroom management in school settings. A review by Barry Parsonson evaluated a number of evidence-based strategies for behavior management to be used by teachers in their classrooms. The review offered a number of go-to games and incentives that the teacher could implement which include The Good Behavior Game and Yakker-Tracker. How fun?!…and totally necessary. 

Hopefully with the previously discussed research, it opens your eyes into seeing the array of applications behavior analysis has in the world beyond autism studies and sparks your interest in digging further! The usefulness of behavior analysis was not discussed in its entirety (obviously, this is a blog and not a book), but with more knowledge comes more questions! 


  1. Vollmer, T.R., Marcus, B.A., & Ringdahl, J.E. (1995). Noncontingent escape as treatment for self-injurious behavior maintained by negative reinforcement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 28(1), 15-26. 
  2. Ahearn, W.H., Clark, K.M., MacDonald, R.P.F., & Chung, B.I. (2007). Assessing and treating vocal stereotypy in children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40(2), 263-275. 
  3. Sigafoos, J. & Meikle, B. (1996). Functional communication training for the treatment of multiply determined challenging behaviors in two boys with autism. Behavior Modification, 20, 60-84. 
  4. Azrin, N.H. & Foxx, R.M. (1971). A rapid method of toilet training the institutionalized retarded. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 4(2), 89-99. 
  5. Petursdottir, A.I. & Carr, J.E. (2011). Recommendations for sequencing receptive and expressive language instruction. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44(4), 859-876. 
  6. Jin, C.S., Hanley, G.P., & Beaulieu, L. (2013). An individualized and comprehensive approach to treating sleep problems in young children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 46, 161-180. 
  7. Fisher, W.W., Piazza, C.C., & Roane, H.S. (2011). Handbook of applied behavior analysis. The Guilford Press. 
  8. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2017). Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) authorized curriculum guide [PDF file]. https://www.umassmed.edu/globalassets/center-for-mindfulness/documents/mbsr-curriculum-guide-2017.pdf
  9. Levoy, E., Lazaridou, A., Brewer, J., & Fulwiler, C. (2018). An exploratory study of mindfulness based stress reduction for emotional eating. Appetite, 109, 12-130. 
  10. Owens, J.E., Schorlin, J., Plews-Ogan, M., Goodman, M., Moorman, R., Zaklin, R., & Dent, J. (2016). A randomized controlled trial evaluating mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) for the treatment of palpitations: A pilot study. International Journal of Cardiology, 223, 25-27. 
  11. Cash, E., Salmon, P., Weissbecker, I., Rebholz, W.N., Bayley-Veloso, R., Zimmaro, L., Flyoyd, A., Dedert, E., & Sephton, S.E. (2016). Mindfulness meditation alleviates fibromyalgia symptoms in women: Results of a randomized clinical trial. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 49(3), 319-330.
  12. Song, Y. & Lindquist, R. (2015). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on depression, anxiety, stress and mindfulness in Korean nursing students. Nurse Education Today, 35(1), 86-90. 
  13. Lowe, C.F. (2011). Can behaviour analysts change the world? 37th annual convention. Symposium conducted at the meeting of Association for Behavior Analysis International, Denver, CO.
  14. Casey, S.D. (2017). Introductory assessment and treatment of pediatric feeding disorders. 43rd annual convention. Symposium conducted at the meeting of Association for Behavior Analysis International, Denver, CO. 
  15. Burgio, L.D., Page, T.J., Capriotti, R.M. (1985). Behavioral pharmacology: Methods for evaluating medications and contingency management. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 18(1), 45-59.  
  16. Foxall, G. (2013). Consumer behavior analysis: Behavioral economics meets the marketplace. 39th annual convention. Symposium conducted at the meeting of Association for Behavior Analysis International, Minneapolis, MN.
  17. Wilson, D.S. (2018). Evolution and contextual behavioral science: An integrated framework for understanding, predicting, and influencing human behavior. 44th annual convention. Symposium conducted at the meeting of Association for Behavior Analysis International, San Diego, CA.

Parsonson, B.S. (2012). Evidence-based classroom behaviour management strategies. Kairaranga, 13(1), 16-23.

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