The Behavior Analyst

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 97–107 | Cite as

The Need for a More Effective Science of Cultural Practices

  • Anthony BiglanEmail author
Original Article


Behavior analysis has produced a robust theoretical analysis of the contingencies involved in cultural evolution. Yet, thus far, the empirical yield of this work remains quite limited. With this paper, I attempt to provide specific examples of the ways to advance an experimental analysis of the contingencies involved in cultural evolution. I begin with a review of the theoretical analyses developed by behavior analysts and other contextually oriented scientists. Next, I submit that, if the goal of our science is both predicting and influencing cultural phenomena, we must produce experimental analyses of the impact of meta-contingencies on organizations’ practices. There is no more pressing reason for doing this than the threat of climate change posed by the continuing growth in human use of fossil fuels. Therefore, the paper provides an analysis of the contingencies influencing organizational practices now affecting continued use of fossil fuels and the contingencies for organizations seeking to prevent their use. One concrete step to advance a science of cultural change relevant to climate change would be to create a database of organizations that are promoting vs. working to prevent fossil fuel consumption and the consequences that seem to maintain their practices. I call for experimental analysis of the impact of altering consequences for these practices and for experimental analyses of interventions intended to change the norms, values, and behavior of organizational leaders who can influence fossil fuel consumption. I then discuss the role of prosocial behavior and values in affecting behavior relevant to reducing fossil fuel consumption because the empirical evidence shows that prosociality favors more “green” behavior. Recent advances in prevention research have identified interventions to promote prosociality, but we need experimental analyses of how advocacy organizations can be more effective in getting these interventions widely adopted.


Cultural evolution Climate change Behavior analysis Organizational practices Human wellbeing 



The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (1R01AA021726-01A1) provided financial support to the author during his work on this manuscript. The content is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIAAA or the National Institutes of Health. I would like to thank Christine Cody for her usual diligent and thoughtful editing of this paper. And I would like to thank Robyn Walser for her impassioned advocacy for research and action to address climate change.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The author has not submitted this manuscript to any other journal for simultaneous consideration. The manuscript has not been published previously (partly or in full). This paper does not involve a specific study or project data, and thus, no data have been fabricated or manipulated. The author has not presented any theories, text, or data that is not his own. He has cited all referenced material, using quotes if citing anything verbatim, including page numbers. As the sole author of this paper, the author is responsible for all statements and theories presented in the paper.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oregon Research InstituteEugeneUSA

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