Guidance or Compliance: What Makes an Ethical Behavior Analyst?


In 2016, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) made effective a new, revised ethical code for behavior analysts, the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts, replacing the code that had been in effect since 2001. In this revised code, the certification board has shifted the language of the code from that of a set of guidelines to that of a set of enforceable rules. This important shift has not been well discussed in the field. This article explores the potential implications and possible consequences of such a shift and describes other ways that ethical behavior has been approached historically. The authors then propose an ethical decision-making process that might provide a better area of focus for the field of behavior analysis in seeking to develop the highest levels of ethical behavior in its professionals and provide a case example using that process to resolve an ethical dilemma.

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    An excellent online resource for a nonspecialist’s introduction to ethics is The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (


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Correspondence to Nancy E. Rosenberg.

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Nancy Rosenberg declares she has no conflict of interest. Ilene Schwartz declares she has no conflict of interest.

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Rosenberg, N.E., Schwartz, I.S. Guidance or Compliance: What Makes an Ethical Behavior Analyst?. Behav Analysis Practice 12, 473–482 (2019).

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  • Ethics
  • Behavior analysis
  • BACB compliance code
  • Ethical dilemmas
  • Professionalism