Behavior Analysis in Practice

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 688–695 | Cite as

The Unique Challenge of Articulating the Behavior Analysts’ Ethical Obligations and the Case of Punishment

  • Abraham GraberEmail author
  • Jessica E. Graber
Discussion and Review Paper


There is a long-standing debate about the place for technical versus colloquial language in applied behavior analysis; however, this debate has yet to be considered within the context of a professional code of ethics for applied behavior analysts. In this article we discuss the limitations of technical language in articulating the applied behavior analyst’s ethical commitments, illustrating this point by considering the use of the term punishment in the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts (Behavior Analyst Certification Board, 2016). The ethical concerns regarding the use of punishment may be more accurately stated in terms of the need to avoid techniques that cause pain or discomfort rather than techniques that meet the technical definition of punishment. In summary, more consideration should be given to the use of subjective terminology in behavior analysts’ ethical discussions.


Ethics Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts Punishment Mentalism Subjectivism Operationalization 



We are very grateful for the invaluable feedback we received from David Wacker, Donald Hantula, Florence DiGennaro Reed, David Cox, and Shawn Quigly. We are also grateful for the insightful and comprehensive comments provided by two anonymous reviewers.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Abraham Graber declares that he has no conflicts of interest. Jessica Graber declares that she has no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and ClassicsUniversity of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA
  2. 2.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA
  3. 3.Autism Treatment CenterSan AntonioUSA

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