ABA in Conjunction with Behavioral Neuroscience

As an intervention technique based on methodical observation and adaptation, applied behavior analysis (ABA) can be used in conjunction with behavioral neuroscience as a tool for practical application of the field’s core principles. There is a substantial crossover between conventional psychology and behavioral neuroscience, as both focus on the mental development of humans and animals. Even though there are some substantial differences that make these two fields distinct, professionals and students of either one have good reason to broaden their perspective by incorporating skills and knowledge from the other.

Related resource: 40 Best Online ABA Graduate Certificate Online Programs

Blending Biology and Neuroscience

The study of behavioral neuroscience goes by several names, including biopsychology and psychobiology. These terms emphasize the blend of biological and psychological principles within the field, as well as a combination of their methods, conventions, and discoveries. While it is treated as a separate subject in many academic environments, behavioral neuroscience can also be seen as an extension of behavioral psychology that bridges the discipline with the study of the brain and body. It can be difficult to clearly define the edges of the field or differentiate it from other disciplines in practice.

Behavioral Process Versus Function

Conventional ABA centers around treatment of human patients who manifest behaviors that impact their quality of life or the lives of those around them. Rather than address the long-term psychological or biological causes behind it, ABA therapists focus on the immediate actions and responses related to an unwanted behavior, according to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Practitioners don’t completely ignore their patient’s environment or development, but this information is rarely relevant to management techniques.

This contrasts with the focus of behavioral neuroscience, which typically revolves around the relationship between a person and their environment. A desire to understand the physical and psychological relationship between people and their surroundings drives the entire profession. Even though neuroscientists emphasize developmental factors behind behavior, there are many fundamental elements of behavior analysis that have great value in their studies.

Incorporating ABA Methodology

Applied behavior analysis is a useful, and some would say essential, addition to the behavioral neuroscientist’s arsenal. It is one of few methods that has produced consistent, positive results in managing human and animal behavior. ABA takes a purely practical and functional approach based on direct observation. Practitioners create measurable goals and quantify their results so they can tailor their strategy as needed. Even though sessions are personalized around individual patients, they are all based on the basic principles of operant conditioning.

Applications for ABA in Behavioral Neuroscience

For behavioral neuroscientists, ABA methods provide a framework for researchers conducting broad trials or case studies. The ability to measure behavioral change is essential for using the information alongside other scientific data, which would be impossible without a reliable way to quantify the results. Unlike physical anatomy, human brain function is significantly different than that of animals. This means that living humans are the primary subjects in behavioral science, so the methods of applied behavior analysis play a role in many research projects.

Behavioral neuroscience research projects are characterized by the inclusion of a biological variable. Researchers typically monitor neural activity by placing electrodes on the head or using advanced imaging technology to gather more information in these experiments. Many trials also involve temporarily disabling or enhancing an aspect of brain function in the subject through chemical or electrical stimulation. Participation from subjects can be an essential part of the experiment, which makes ABA an invaluable resource for universal measurement and comparison.

Working in Behavior Analysis and Neuroscience

While ABA is traditionally linked to the practice of psychology, licensed and experienced professionals often have plenty of chances to branch out into related disciplines. Continuing education and professional experience can offer the opportunity for practicing psychologists to use their skills in a behavioral neuroscience research environment. Likewise, experts in neuroscience often develop a firm understanding of practical behavior analysis techniques to further their research efforts and increase professional scope.

Even though many neuroscientists work directly with human subjects on a daily basis, they do not necessarily focus on treating individual people. ABA therapists can leverage their experience in dealing with patients in this environment, but these interactions are limited compared to a clinical setting. As a cross-discipline of several scientific fields, psychobiology doesn’t always adopt the personalized mentality seen in one-on-one therapy. Practicing psychologists who transition into the field may have to adjust their established approach to accommodate these constraints.

Preparing for a Career

Undergraduate students in behavioral neuroscience or psychology can broaden their horizons by taking courses in the other field. Graduate programs provide further opportunities to specialize based on earlier studies. There are many different career paths in these two fields, although undergraduates with training in ABA may find more entry-level employment options overall. Students of either discipline must obtain an advanced degree if they want to work independently or conduct research. The flexible nature of doctoral programs allows for the application of both neuroscience and behavior analysis to a specific issue, which is excellent preparation for a mutual career focus.

Further Reading and Information Resources

Both students and established professionals should consider seeking membership with related organizations to learn more about preparing for a career. The Association for Behavior Analysis International is dedicated to issues surrounding behavior analysis and boasts a growing, global membership. Students and recent graduates in behavior analysis should also research the requirements for licensing through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). Certification can provide a lot of value when applying for jobs and open up many new opportunities.

The human mind is one of the most complex subjects currently faced by the scientific community. While the study of the brain is rooted in anatomy and physiology, the study of the mind encompasses broader and often ill-defined factors. Even though it’s hard to identify the exact boundary between biology, psychology and neuroscience, there’s no doubt that all three are connected on a fundamental level. The methodical practices of ABA perfectly compliment the goals of behavioral science, so researchers can use them in conjunction with other techniques to increase the consistency and quality of experiments.