, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 273-297

The Good Behavior Game: A Best Practice Candidate as a Universal Behavioral Vaccine

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Abstract

A “behavioral vaccine” provides an inoculation against morbidity or mortality, impacting physical, mental, or behavior disorders. An historical example of a behavioral vaccine is antiseptic hand washing to reduce childbed fever. In current society, issues with high levels of morbidity, such as substance abuse, delinquency, youth violence, and other behavioral disorders (multiproblems), cry out for a low-cost, widespread strategy as simple as antiseptic hand washing. Congruent research findings from longitudinal studies, twin studies, and other investigations suggest that a possibility might exist for a behavioral vaccine for multiproblem behavior. A simple behavioral strategy called the Good Behavior Game (GBG), which reinforces inhibition in a group context of elementary school, has substantial previous research to consider its use as a behavioral vaccine. The GBG is not a curriculum but rather a simple behavioral procedure from applied behavior analysis. Approximately 20 independent replications of the GBG across different grade levels, different types of students, different settings, and some with long-term follow-up show strong, consistent impact on impulsive, disruptive behaviors of children and teens as well as reductions in substance use or serious antisocial behaviors. The GBG, named as a “best practice” for the prevention of substance abuse or violent behavior by a number of federal agencies, is unique because it is the only practice implemented by individual teachers that is documented to have long-term effects. Presently, the GBG is only used in a small number of settings. However, near universal use of the GBG, in major political jurisdictions during the elementary years, could substantially reduce the incidence of substance use, antisocial behavior, and other adverse developmental or social consequences at a very modest cost, with very positive cost-effectiveness ratios.