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Ethical Behavior Analysis: Evidence-Based Practice as a Framework for Ethical Decision Making


As the number of applied behavior analysts continues to grow, ethical practice and decision making become increasingly important. Specifically, improving behavior analysts’ ethical decision-making repertoires is critical to effective and ethical behavioral service delivery within the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA). This article proposes that the evidence-based practice (EBP) of ABA (Slocum et al., 2014) provides a framework to support fluent ethical decision making. The purpose of this article is to (a) review the importance of ethical decision making related to the practice of ABA, (b) introduce and summarize EBP of ABA, (c) review the three main components of EBP of ABA, and (d) discuss the broader role that EBP of ABA can play in the field of ABA. We tie the EBP of ABA to current Behavior Analyst Certification Board ethical standards and present actions that behavior analysts can engage in to support their ethical decision making throughout.

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  1. 1.

    The following cited documents are current versions of the documents that were used as models for the development of the initial Guidelines for Professional Conduct for Behavior Analysts (BACB, 2014): APA (2017), NASP (2010), AERA (2011), and NASW (2017).

  2. 2.

    Here, we are not using the term “pragmatism” in the philosophical sense (i.e., realism vs. pragmatism) but rather as the term was used by Baer et al. (1968) to discuss the behavioral dimension.

  3. 3.

    Per the Ethics Code (BACB, 2020), the code items apply to and are enforceable for individuals who are currently certified as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs), as well as individuals who have submitted their application materials to become BCBA/BCaBA certified. The Ethics Code does not apply to the Registered Behavior Technician credential.

  4. 4.

    The current Ethics Code that takes effect on January 1, 2022, includes a section dedicated to ethical decision making (BACB, 2020). We anticipate that this will contribute to changes in the way that ethics is taught in the context of behavior analysis training programs.


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We would like to thank Tyra Sellers for her contributions to earlier drafts of this work.

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Contreras, B.P., Hoffmann, A.N. & Slocum, T.A. Ethical Behavior Analysis: Evidence-Based Practice as a Framework for Ethical Decision Making. Behav Analysis Practice (2021).

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  • Evidence-based practice
  • Ethics
  • Decision making