The Behavior Analyst

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 305–317 | Cite as

On the Social Acceptability of Behavior-Analytic Terms: Crowdsourced Comparisons of Lay and Technical Language

  • Amel Becirevic
  • Thomas S. Critchfield
  • Derek D. Reed


Behavior analysis has a marketing problem. Although behavior analysts have speculated about the problems regarding our technical behavior-analytic terminology and how our terminology has hindered the dissemination of behavior analysis to outsiders, few have investigated the social acceptability of the terminology. The present paper reports the general public’s reactions to technical behavioral jargon versus non-technical substitute terms that refer to applied behavior-analytic techniques. Two-hundred participants, all non-behavior analysts, were recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk and completed a survey on the social acceptability of behavioral jargon and non-technical terms. Specifically, participants rated the acceptability of how the six pairs of terms (technical and non-technical) sounded if the treatments were to be implemented for each of 10 potential populations of clients that behavior analysts typically work with. The results show that, overall, members of the general public found non-technical substitute terms more acceptable than technical behavior-analytic terms. The finding suggests that specialized vocabulary of behavior analysis may create hurdles to the acceptability of applied behavior-analytic services. The implication of these findings suggest the importance of a systematic investigation of listener behavior with respect to behavior analysis terms.


Amazon mechanical turk Behavior analysis Dissemination Jargon Terminology Public perception Social acceptability 



We thank Gideon Naudé and Rachel Jackson for valuable feedback on drafts of the manuscript and Ed Morris for the many insightful conversations about the importance of using language for its effect on the specific audience. We also acknowledge Patrick Friman for inspiring us to examine our own levels of jargon.

All reviews and editorial decisions for this manuscript were handled independently by Guest Associate Editor Philip N. Hineline.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


The authors used no grant funding in this study.

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.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Aune, M., Hunter, J. E., Kim, H. J., & Kim, J. S. (2001). The effect of culture and self‐construals on predispositions toward verbal communication. Human Communication Research, 27, 382–408. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2001.tb00786.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91–97. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1968.1-91.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. Bailey, J. S. (1991). Marketing behavior analysis requires different talk. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 445–448. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1991.24-445.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. Bechler, C., Green, L., & Myerson, J. (2015). Proportion offered in the dictator and ultimatum games decreases with amount and social distance. Behavioural Processes, 115, 149–155. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2015.04.003.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Berger, M. (1973). Behaviorism in twenty-five words. Social Work, 18, 106–108.Google Scholar
  6. Bickel, W. K., Wilson, A. G., Franck, C. T., Mueller, E. T., Jarmolowicz, D. P., Koffarnus, M. N., et al. (2014). Using crowdsourcing to compare temporal, social temporal, and probability discounting among obese and non-obese individuals. Appetite, 75, 82–89. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.12.018.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T., & Gosling, S. D. (2011). Amazon’s mechanical turk: a new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 3–5. doi: 10.1177/1745691610393980.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Couper, M. P., Traugott, M. W., & Lamias, M. J. (2001). Web survey design and administration. Public Opinion Quarterly, 65, 230–253. doi: 10.1086/322199.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Critchfield, T. S., & Epting, L. K. (1998). The trouble with babies and the value of bath water: complexities in the use of verbal reports as data. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 15, 65–74.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Critchfield, T. S., Tucker, J. A., & Vuchinich, R. E. (1998). Self-report methods. In K. A. Lattal & M. Perone (Eds.), Handbook of methods for the experimental analysis of human behavior (pp. 435–470). New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dodds, P. S., Clark, E. M., Desu, S., Frank, M. R., Reagan, A. J., Williams, J. R., et al. (2015). Human language reveals a universal positivity bias. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, 2389–2394. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1411678112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Doughty, A. H., Holloway, C., Shields, M. C., & Kennedy, L. E. (2012). Marketing behavior analysis requires (really) different talk: a critique of Kohn (2005) and a(nother) call to arms. Behavior and Social Issues, 21, 115–134. doi: 10.5210/bsi.v21i0.3914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Field, D. P., & Hineline, P. N. (2008). Dispositioning and the obscured roles of time in psychological explanations. Behavior and Philosophy, 36, 5–69.Google Scholar
  14. Fixsen, D. L., Naoom, S. F., Blase, K. A., Friedman, R. M., & Wallace, F. (2005). Implementation research: a synthesis of the literature. Tampa: University of South Florida, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, The National Implementation Research Network (FMHI Publication #231).Google Scholar
  15. Foxx, R. M. (1996). Translating the covenant: the behavior analyst as ambassador and translator. Behavior Analyst, 19, 147–161.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  16. Freedman, D. H. (2015). Improving the public perception of behavior analysis. Behavior Analyst, 1-7. doi: 10.1007/s40614-015-0045-2
  17. Friman, P. C. (2014a). Behavior analysts to the front! A 15-step tutorial on public speaking. Behavior Analyst, 37, 109–118. doi: 10.1007/s40614-014-0009-y.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. Friman, P. C. (2014b). Publishing in journals outside the box: attaining mainstream prominence requires demonstrations of mainstream relevance. Behavior Analyst, 37, 73–76. doi: 10.1007/s40614-014-0014-1.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Green, G. (1996). Evaluating claims about treatments for autism. In C. Maurice, G. Green, & S. Luce (Eds.), Behavioral intervention for young children with autism: a manual for parents and professionals (pp. 15–28). Austin: Pro-Ed.Google Scholar
  20. Hearst, E. (1967). The behavior of Skinnerians. Contemporary Psychology, 12, 402–404.Google Scholar
  21. Hineline, P. N. (1990). Priorities and strategies for this new decade. Presidential address at the meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  22. Infante, D. A., & Rancer, A. S. (1996). Argumentativeness and verbal aggressiveness: a review of recent theory and research. In B. Burleson (Ed.), Communication yearbook 19 (pp. 318–351). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  23. Jarmolowicz, D. P., Bickel, W. K., Carter, A. E., Franck, C. T., & Mueller, E. T. (2012). Using crowdsourcing to examine relations between delay and probability discounting. Behavioural Processes, 91, 308–312. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2012.09.001.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Johnson, P. S., Herrmann, E. S., & Johnson, M. W. (2015). Opportunity costs of reward delays and the discounting of hypothetical money and cigarettes. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 103, 87–107. doi: 10.1002/jeab.110.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Kazdin, A. (1980). Acceptability of time-out from reinforcement procedures for disruptive behavior. Behavior Therapy, 11, 329–344. doi: 10.1016/S0005-7894(80)80050-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Klare, G. R., Mabry, J. E., & Gustafson, L. M. (1955a). The relationship of human interest to immediate retention and acceptability of technical material. Journal of Applied Psychology, 39, 92–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Klare, G. R., Mabry, J. E., & Gustafson, L. M. (1955b). The relationship of style difficulty to immediate retention and acceptability of technical material. Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 287–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kloumann, I. M., Danforth, C. M., Harris, K. D., Bliss, C. A., & Dodds, P. S. (2012). Positivity of the English language. PloS One, 7, e29484. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029484.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  30. Leigland, S. (2010). Functions of research in radical behaviorism for the further development of behavior analysis. Behavior Analyst, 33, 207–222.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Lengel, G. J., & Mullins-Sweatt, S. N. (2016). The importance and acceptability of general and maladaptive personality trait computerized assessment feedback. Psychological Assessment. doi: 10.1037/pas0000321.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Lindsley, O. R. (1991). From technical jargon to plain English for application. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 449–458. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1991.24-449.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. MacCorquodale, K. (1970). On Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s verbal behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 13, 83–99. doi: 10.1901/jeab.1970.13-83.CrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Madden, G. J. (2013). Go forth and be variable. Behavior Analyst, 36, 137–143.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  35. Mason, W., & Suri, S. (2012). Conducting behavioral research on Amazon’s mechanical turk. Behavior Research Methods, 44, 1–23. doi: 10.3758/s13428-011-0124-6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Maurice, C. (1993). Let me hear your voice: a family’s triumph over autism. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  37. Minkin, N., Braukmann, C. J., Minkin, B. L., Timbers, G. D., Timbers, B. J., Fixsen, D. L., et al. (1976). The social validation and training of conversational skills. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 9, 127–139. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1976.9-127.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  38. Morris, E. K. (1985). Public information, dissemination, and behavior analysis. Behavior Analyst, 8, 95–110.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  39. Morris, E. K. (2014). Stop preaching to the choir, publish outside the box: a discussion. Behavior Analyst, 37, 87–94. doi: 10.1007/s40614-014-0011-4.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. Moser, C. A., & Kalton, G. (1971). Survey methods in social investigation (2nd ed.). London: Heinemann Educational.Google Scholar
  41. Myerson, J., Baumann, A. A., & Green, L. (2014). Discounting of delayed rewards: (a)theoretical interpretation of the Kirby questionnaire. Behavioural Processes, 107, 99–105. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.07.021.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  42. Normand, M. P. (2014). Opening Skinner’s box: an introduction. Behavior Analyst, 37, 67–68. doi: 10.1007/s40614-014-0016-z.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  43. Paolacci, G., & Chandler, J. (2014). Inside the turk: understanding mechanical turk as a participant pool. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 184–188. doi: 10.1177/0963721414531598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pietras, C. J., Reilly, M. P., & Jacobs, E. A. (2013). Moving forward without changing course. Behavior Analyst, 36, 145–149.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  45. Podlesnik, C. A. (2013). The openness is there. Behavior Analyst, 36, 151–153.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  46. Rand, D. G. (2012). The promise of mechanical turk: how online labor markets can help theorists run behavioral experiments. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 299, 172–179. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2011.03.004.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Rapucci, N. D., & Saunders, J. T. (1974). The social psychology of behavior modification: problems of implementation in natural settings. American Psychologist, 29, 649–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Reed, D. D. (2014). Determining how, when, and whether you should publish outside the box: sober advice for early career behavior analysts. Behavior Analyst, 37, 83–86. doi: 10.1007/s40614-014-0012-3.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  49. Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  50. Rolider, A., Axelrod, S., & Van Houten, R. (1998). Don’t speak behaviorism to me: how to clearly and effectively communicate behavioral interventions to the general public. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 20, 39–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Roma, P. G., Hursh, S. R., & Hudja, S. (2016). Hypothetical purchase task questionnaires for behavioral economic assessments of value and motivation. Managerial and Decision Economics, 37, 306–323. doi: 10.1002/mde.2718.
  52. Rorty, R. (1991). Objectivity, relativism, and truth: philosophical papers (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Schlinger, H. D. (2014). Publishing outside the box: unforeseen dividends of talking to strangers. Behavior Analyst, 37, 77–81. doi: 10.1007/s40614-014-0010-5.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  54. Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  55. Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. New York: Appleton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Skinner, B. (1971). Beyond freedom and dignity. New York: Bantam Vintage.Google Scholar
  57. Skinner, B. F. (1974). About behaviorism. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  58. Skinner, B. F. (1975). The steep and thorny way to a science of behavior. American Psychologist, 30, 42–49.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Skinner, B. F. (1977). Herrnstein and the evolution of behaviorism. American Psychologist, 32, 1006–1012. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.32.12.1006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Smith, J. M. (2015). Strategies to position behavior analysis as the contemporary science of what works in behavior change. Behavior Analyst, 1-13. doi: 10.1007/s40614-015-0044-3
  61. Sprouse, J. (2011). A validation of Amazon mechanical turk for the collection of acceptability judgments in linguistic theory. Behavior Research Methods, 43, 155–167.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. St. Peter, C. C. (2013). Changing course through collaboration. Behavior Analyst, 36, 155–160.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  63. Villardaga, R., Hayes, S. C., Levin, M. E., & Muto, T. (2009). Creating a strategy for progress: a contextual behavior science approach. Behavior Analyst, 32, 105–133.Google Scholar
  64. Vyse, S. (2013). Changing course. Behavior Analyst, 36, 123–135.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  65. Vyse, S. (2014). Publishing outside the box: popular press books. Behavior Analyst, 37, 69–72. doi: 10.1007/s40614-014-0013-2.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  66. Witt, J. C., & Martens, B. K. (1983). Assessing the acceptability of behavioral interventions. Psychology in the Schools, 20, 50–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Witt, J. C., Martens, B. K., & Elliott, S. N. (1984). Factors affecting teachers’ judgments of the acceptability of behavioral interventions: time involvement, behavior problem severity, and type of intervention. Behavior Therapy, 15, 204–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Witt, J. C., Moe, G., Gutkin, T. B., & Andrews, L. (1984). The effect of saying the same thing in different ways: the problem of language and jargon in school-based consultation. Journal of School Psychology, 22, 361–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wolf, M. M. (1978). Social validity: the case for subjective measurement or how applied behavior analysis is finding its heart. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 11, 203–214.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  70. Wright, S. C., & Bougie, E. (2007). Intergroup contact and minority-language education: reducing language-based discrimination and its negative impact. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 26, 157–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amel Becirevic
    • 1
  • Thomas S. Critchfield
    • 2
  • Derek D. Reed
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Illinois State UniversityNormalUSA

Personalised recommendations