How Behavior Therapists Analyze Social Behavior

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Behavior therapist counsels patient during therapy session.

Social behavior is an essential part of how individuals of any species, including humans, interact with each other for good or ill.  Understanding human social behavior is at the heart of behavior analysis. According to the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), behavior analysis seeks to understand individual expression through the application of natural science. Diagnosing, defining, and dealing with social behavior problems are what behavior therapists are trained to do.

Social Behavior Definition and Understanding Human Behavior

Humans are complex and interesting, and their ability for deep thought makes it difficult to determine their behavior as compared with simpler creatures. According to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board® definition, behavior analysts study human behavior—what causes it and how it can be changed to improve the overall quality of human life. An ABA therapist uses a system that includes assessment of social skills, specific strategy creation and specific interventions (such as response training, behavioral and verbal intervention).

“Humans are inherently social,” Simon N. Young explained in an article in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, but the manner in which the human brain regulates the good function or disruption of normal social is still a widely underexplored topic. Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization, defines social skills as skills that enable humans to interact with one another and the world around them.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA), as Psychology Today reports, is a field that deals with the improvement of human social behaviors, including reading, communication, social skills, and adaptive learning skills. ABA serves as a critical methodology for teaching people with autism, helping them live full, productive lives by learning about their behavior in context.

Core Competencies for Behavior Therapists

For students seeking to become behavior therapists, there are several skills they must attain to offer full support to their future patients:

  • Interpersonal skills. Behavior therapists must be able to listen to patients and direct discussions toward facing their problems.
  • Analytical skills. Behavior therapists must be able to determine the impact of treatment to see if the course of treatment is working.
  • Empathic skills. Behavior therapists must be able to understand situations from patients’ perspectives and explain how a particular social setting functions for them.

Techniques Common to Analysis of Social Behavior

Using behavior analysis to analyze social behavior requires putting into practice techniques that help patients learn about what they should and shouldn’t do in particular social settings. The following are among the most common methods used to teach social skills:

  • Positive and negative interactions. Behavior therapists must know how to apply certain techniques to help patients understand social situations, as well as what practices are acceptable in those settings.
  • Prompting and fading. Interaction with a social environment usually comes with many nonverbal cues that may be difficult for patients to pick up on initially. By vocalizing and making those cues visible, then slowly fading out the visibility of those prompts, behavior therapists condition patients to interact with those nonverbal cues, helping them to have more acceptable behavior in given settings.
  • Generalization. Behavior therapists can apply learned behavior from one environment to another related setting, making it much easier for patients to understand how and why they should behave in a certain way.
  • Analysis of task completion. Occasionally, behavior therapists may give patients a task and note how they accomplish that task. Using the observational information, behavioral therapists can formulate maps of how patients perceive and process information in order to develop better ways of teaching social behavior to those particular patients.

Key Experiences for Career Development as a Behavior Therapist

An masters in Applied Behavior online gives students a solid grounding in theory and practice built on scientific principles. Graduates learn critical methods of dealing with patients through behavioral assessment and intervention, as well as the ethics and values associated with being a behavior therapist. Behavior therapists who understand concepts like how to evaluate treatment regimens and how to deal with radical behavior are well suited to learn and grow within the field.

After completing the degree, graduates may qualify to sit for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board® certification exam, further improving their professional prospects.

Learn More

Regis College’s online MS in ABA program offers a curriculum with a heavy focus on coursework designed for science and health professionals. A combination of clinical experience and academic research enables graduates to apply what they’ve learned to their professions. Additionally, learning from professionals in the field and forging professional relationships are part of the program, helping graduates create connections as they progress in their careers.

Recommended Reading

Where Do Behavior Therapists Work? Providing Support Services in Many Settings

How Behavioral Scientists Treat Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Using Applied Behavior Analysis

How ABA Interventions Promote Positive Behavior


Association for Behavior Analysis International, What Is Behavior Analysis?

Autism Speaks, Social Skills and Autism

Behavior Analyst Certification Board, About Behavior Analysis

Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, “Toward an Integrative Understanding of Social Behavior: New Models and New Opportunities”

Psychology Today, Applied Behavior Analysis

Regis College, Online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis Curriculum

U.S. National Library of Science, “The Neurobiology of Human Social Behaviour: An Important But Neglected Topic”