Behavior Analysis in Practice

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 97–106 | Cite as

Normative Emotional Responses to Behavior Analysis Jargon or How Not to Use Words to Win Friends and Influence People

  • Thomas S. CritchfieldEmail author
  • Karla J. Doepke
  • L. Kimberly Epting
  • Amel Becirevic
  • Derek D. Reed
  • Daniel M. Fienup
  • Jamie L. Kremsreiter
  • Cheryl L. Ecott
Research Article


It has been suggested that non-experts regard the jargon of behavior analysis as abrasive, harsh, and unpleasant. If this is true, excessive reliance on jargon could interfere with the dissemination of effective services. To address this often discussed but rarely studied issue, we consulted a large, public domain list of English words that have been rated by members of the general public for the emotional reactions they evoke. Selected words that behavior analysts use as technical terms were compared to selected words that are commonly used to discuss general science, general clinical work, and behavioral assessment. There was a tendency for behavior analysis terms to register as more unpleasant than other kinds of professional terms and also as more unpleasant than English words generally. We suggest possible reasons for this finding, discuss its relevance to the challenge of deciding how to communicate with consumers who do not yet understand or value behavior analysis, and advocate for systematic research to guide the marketing of behavior analysis.


Jargon Behavior analysis terminology Dissemination Motivating operations Emotion 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors. It drew instead on archival, public domain data sets. Therefore, Institutional Review Board oversight does not apply.

Informed Consent

Because the research used archival, public domain data sets, conventions of informed consent do not apply.


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas S. Critchfield
    • 1
    Email author
  • Karla J. Doepke
    • 1
  • L. Kimberly Epting
    • 2
  • Amel Becirevic
    • 3
  • Derek D. Reed
    • 3
  • Daniel M. Fienup
    • 4
  • Jamie L. Kremsreiter
    • 5
  • Cheryl L. Ecott
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyIllinois State UniversityNormalUSA
  2. 2.Elon UniversityElonUSA
  3. 3.University of KansasLawrenceUSA
  4. 4.Queens CollegeFlushingUSA
  5. 5.University of Iowa Hospitals and ClinicsIowa CityUSA
  6. 6.Better Life Behavioral Services of Central FloridaLeesburgUSA

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