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.
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We use the term behavior analysis here and throughout the manuscript.
We note that behavior analysts are beginning to use mTurk for behavioral studies on choice and decision making, and are publishing such findings in behavioral journals (Bechler, Green, and Myerson 2015; Bickel et al. 2014; Jarmolowicz, Bickel, Carter, Franck, and Mueller 2012; Johnson, Herrmann, and Johnson 2015; Myerson, Baumann, and Green 2014; Roma, Hursh, and Hudja 2016).
Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to address the extent to which people, particularly those in Western cultures, understand behavioral phenomena, including verbal and social behavior, we refer interested readers to Field and Hineline (2008) for a systematic discussion on the ubiquity of dispositional causes (i.e., traditional interpretations) for complex, temporally extended behavioral phenomena; namely, the verbal community may be uncomfortable with behavioral interpretations and prose that are distinct from their particular terms.
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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.
The authors used no grant funding in this study.
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 was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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Becirevic, A., Critchfield, T.S. & Reed, D.D. On the Social Acceptability of Behavior-Analytic Terms: Crowdsourced Comparisons of Lay and Technical Language. BEHAV ANALYST 39, 305–317 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40614-016-0067-4