Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, fulfills essential roles in far-ranging fields, such as education, parenting, medicine, criminology and even animal psychology. While this may seem like a lot of ground for new students to cover, it actually means there’s quite a wide range of interesting topics to study. Here are just five research topics that might pique your curiosity.

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1. Industrial Safety

Applied behavior analysis can be used to determine how cohorts or specific populations perform under common conditions. It may also help devise improvements that benefit these groups.

In one classic study from 1987, researchers examined how creating a token economy might increase safety at dangerous industrial sites. The study rewarded pit-mine workers when they and their colleagues avoided incidents that resulted in personal injury or equipment damage. They also rewarded workers who took extra steps to ensure the safety of others and report incidents. By using applied behavior analysis to incentivize self-motivated conduct modification, the researchers created improvements that persisted for years.

2. Autism Spectrum

According to Autism Speaks, ABA has been employed to help those with autism spectrum disorders learn applicable skills since the 1960s. Many studies demonstrate the efficacy of these methods at helping children and adults communicate, build social relationships, master self-care and find employment.

Advocates also note that there remains a small but significant portion of autism sufferers who don’t respond to conventional techniques. There’s an ongoing need to study alternative methods and explore why certain approaches don’t work with some individuals. ABA techniques and their relation to autism-spectrum disorders will continue to pose important research questions for some time.

3. Animal and Human Intelligence

Behavior-analytic research has employed animals like rats and pigeons for many decades. Although many of the earliest techniques and applications of such research were later decried as inhumane, modern applied behavior analysis techniques can be used to foster healthy relationships between humans and other species.

For example, researchers note that in 2010, dogs bit 4.5 million Americans annually, with 20 percent of bites needing medical intervention. They further suggest that ABA can provide a valid framework for understanding why such bites occur and preventing them. Similarly, studies that examine why rats may be able to detect tuberculosis or how service dogs help people involve learning about these creatures’ behaviors. Scientists say there’s room for more research in the field.

4. Criminology

Numerous factors affect the likelihood that an individual may commit a crime. Although many, such as poverty, are highly politicized or publicized, they’re not completely understood.

One study showed a potential correlation between allowing high-risk students to choose their schools and their likelihood of criminal involvement. While school choice didn’t affect academic achievement, it generally lowered the risk that people would commit crimes later in life. Applied behavior analysis students who research these fields could play big roles in advancing societal knowledge.

5. Education

Education techniques rely heavily on applied behavior analysis. Instructors may be tasked with disciplining students or devising custom lessons, and these tasks often involve understanding how to incentivize appropriate behavior while motivating learners.

Like other kinds of ABA, applied education research also provides the opportunity for internships and postgraduate residency programs. Because many of this field’s modern foundations lie in education, classroom-based research is a natural fit for students who want to apply their discoveries.

Applied behavior analysis is complex, but studying it is extremely rewarding. This field provides students at all educational levels with ample opportunities to contribute to scientific knowledge and better people’s lives in the process.