What in the World is Behavior Analysis?

Behavioral AnalysisThat is by far the question that I get asked most frequently. What does it mean exactly to analyze behavior? Most people have no idea. Behavior analysis is the scientific study of “behavior-environment relationships”. In other words, the study of the context in which a particular behavior or set of behaviors occurs, in an attempt to explain why we do what we do. Behavior analysts tend to define behavior in the broad context of anything an individual does whilst interacting with their physical environment such as thinking, running, laughing or shifting focus.

What does it have to do with Traffic Safety? 
The act of driving is much more than just the mechanical operation of that vehicle. It encompasses a complex process of individual actions that take place within the social environment of drivers, passengers and pedestrians, which are all ultimately impacted by environmental and contextual elements found both inside and outside the vehicle. What that means is we have licensed drivers all with varying driving history, experience and skill. They all have a different blend of written and unwritten rules of the road that can change depending on the location and situation. The analysis of driver behavior involves searching for observable patterns in behavior that can help identify categories of drivers who might have a higher risk of crashing in a particular environment or set of circumstances. The bottom line is, when discussing how to improve road safety, the behavioral aspects of traffic psychology must be incorporated into the conversation. If not, we’re not looking at the whole picture, and how can you solve a problem with only half of the information?

How does this effect our police officers out in the field?
Everyone can benefit from a better understanding of applied behavior analysis, especially individuals who are involved in traffic safety. The behavior-change interventions commonly used in applied behavior analysis can be used to change behavior in any setting and in any area. Behavior-change interventions focus on changing aspects in an individual’s environment to make desirable behaviors more likely to occur and undesirable behaviors less likely to occur. Developing a better understanding of these techniques and strategies will ensure that they are implemented correctly will cause change to occur more efficiently.

Sources: Handbook of Traffic Psychology, 2011; Positive Behavioral Solutions, 2015; Handbook of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 2014

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