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Making a Footprint in Environmental Sustainability: A Behavioral Systems Approach to Engaging the Behavioral Community

Abstract

Climate change is arguably the most pressing issue facing humanity today. There is significant research to support the argument that climate change is a human-created problem and it can only be addressed by changing human behavior. Despite the magnitude of the issue and the potential for behavior science to make a significant contribution, there are few behavior analysts/scientists currently working in climate change. One possible explanation is that there is limited access to preparation for and opportunities to apply our science to large-scale issues. In response, the Behaviorists for Social Responsibility Special Interest Group of the Association for Behavior Analysis International developed the Matrix Project as a way to apply Behavioral Systems Analysis to issues of social importance. By understanding the contingencies that hinder or promote working in a particular area we can begin to create the conditions that will facilitate such work. The purpose of this article is twofold: 1) to demonstrate how the Matrix Project may be used to increase the likelihood that behavior analysts/scientists will work in areas of social importance using environmental sustainability as an example, and 2) encourage behavior analysts/scientists to target and understand complex systems by providing examples of actionable steps that could be generalized to other important social issues.

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Notes

  1. For a full bibliography of articles pertaining to sustainability in behavior analytic/scientific journals, see https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EkO8kYef0pc41SqcBg6MvvkXcHlIRBJqpaV3SgMcnMI/edit

  2. Behavior Analysis in Practice, Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, Behavior and Social Issues, Behavioral Assessment, Behavioral Intervention, Behavior Modification, European Journal of Behavior Analysis, Japanese Journal of Behavior Analysis, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, Mexican Journal of Behavior Analysis, The Behavior Analyst

  3. This list does not include manuscripts published by prominent behavior analysts/scientists (such as Scott Geller) outside of behavior analytic journals (e.g., Geller, 1981, 1995)

  4. These data are derived from an unpublished literature review conducted by Dr. Derek Reed and Brett Gelino. Details of this search are provided later in the document.

  5. At the BFSR website readers can find an explanation of what the Matrix Project is as well as links to descriptions of each sector. For each sector feasible practices are identified and analyzed in terms of opposing practices, necessary antecedents, and potential reinforcers. The analyses are continually evolving. If the antecedents identified and arranged do not evoke the target practices, then new antecedents must be identified and arranged. If the consequences do not sustain the target practices, then new consequences must be identified and arranged.

  6. For a complete list of all 28 sectors, see https://docs.google.com/document/d/1e2GxlPF6gQhWmObK0tbcmVu5W8bOgTr6KsWe-0LDOWs/edit

  7. These antecedents might be arranged by members of that sector or by members of other sectors. The example of the course units described later in the manuscript is an example of antecedents for individual faculty members, arranged by members of the BFSR SIG to set the occasion for faculty members to include sustainability-related content in their courses.

  8. Behavior Analysis in Practice, Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, Behavior and Social Issues, Behavioral Assessment, Behavioral Intervention, Behavior Modification, European Journal of Behavior Analysis, Japanese Journal of Behavior Analysis, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, Mexican Journal of Behavior Analysis, The Behavior Analyst

  9. Sustainability articles were coded with respect to the BCBA/BCaBA Task List (5th ed.) as an example of how sustainability could be added as focus of behavior-analytic/scientific training. Future improvements to the model syllabi might include references to other relevant training requirements (e.g., ABAI accreditation, training toward a sustainability-specific certification).

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Correspondence to Holly A. Seniuk or Traci M. Cihon.

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Conflict of Interest

Holly A. Seniuk, Traci M. Cihon, Molly Benson, and Molli M. Luke declare that we have no conflict of interest.

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No human or animal subjects took part in the current study.

Additional information

All reviews and editorial decisions for this manuscript were handled independently by Associate Editor Dr. Ingunn Sandaker.

The authors of this manuscript extend their immense gratitude to the Behaviorists for Social Responsibility Special Interest Group for their dedication to addressing important social issues and their work on the BFSR Matrix Project, without which this manuscript and the work that it describes would not be possible.

This article is not an official position of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

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Seniuk, H.A., Cihon, T.M., Benson, M. et al. Making a Footprint in Environmental Sustainability: A Behavioral Systems Approach to Engaging the Behavioral Community. Perspect Behav Sci 42, 911–926 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40614-019-00233-y

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Keywords

  • Applied behavior analysis
  • Behavioral systems analysis
  • Climate change
  • Environment
  • Sustainability