Disseminating Behavior Science Through Classic Experiments

Dear blog reader,

Joining us for this entry is Professor João Henrique de Almeida. João is one of those people that is not just impressively sharp and creative experimentally and conceptually (both in Relational Frame Theory [RFT] and Behavior Analysis [BA] more generally), but is also incredibly kind on an individual level, always willing to go out of his way to help others. Dermot first came in contact with João in 2011 when he came to visit Dermot’s lab in Ireland as part of a research stay during his PhD. It wasn’t until around 2017 that I first met João when he came to visit Dermot again as a post-doc, this time at Ghent University in Belgium, where I was busy doing my PhD. During this time in Ghent, he and Carol Coury Silveira worked extensively with Dermot and Yvonne (Barnes-Holmes) to apply updates in RFT that were coming out of the lab at the time to the development of perspective taking skills. A lot of this exciting work is still ongoing and in preparation, so do stay tuned (information about some of this work presented at the ABAI meeting last year in Boston can be found here, while many other great contributions to the literature from João that you can check out here). Indeed, without João I think I can safely say that I certainly wouldn’t be in my own current position in Brazil working under the supervision of João’s PhD mentor, the incredible Professor Julio de Rose (who is due to provide a blog entry of his own for us in a couple of weeks – stay tuned!).

Anyway, back to the matter at hand: in the following blog post, João tells us a bit about his view on the role of the behavior scientist and the state of play of BA in Brazil, all of which serves to set the scene for why he and two friends decided to compile two edited volumes aimed at introducing interested students to important topics in the field, all through accessible retelling of classic BA experiments. To do this, João and his co-editors invited many distinguished behavior analysts from Brazil and abroad to each talk about one important topic in the field (e.g., stimulus control, behavioural history) through the lens of a critical experiment related to that topic (e.g., Weiner, 1964; you can find the complete list here). If you speak Portuguese (or are stumbling through trying to learn it like me) and have not read these books, I would highly suggest taking a look (they are both freely available through links provided at the end of this blog entry). And if you don’t speak Portuguese, don’t worry — there are a couple of chapters written in English in each volume that are certainly worth checking out; one written by Kennon Lattal, one by Hiroto Okouchi, and another by Michael Perone and Forest Toegel, none of whom need introductions. In any case, I highly recommend taking a couple of minutes to read this interesting blog entry which has many thought provoking implications for the dissemination of our science at home and abroad; and keep an eye out for any of João’s work in the future — you won’t regret it!

About the author:

João H. de Almeida is an assistant professor in the Departament of Psychology at São Paulo State University. He holds a PhD. in Psychology from Federal University of São Carlos, Master degree in Behavior Analysis from Londrina State University and Psychologist formation from São João del Rei Federal University. In two different opportunities he worked as a visiting researcher, in National University of Ireland – Maynooth and Ghent University, both under the supervision of Dermot Barnes-Holmes. He is a former Brazillian ACBS president and a trained Process-Based Behavior Therapy (PBBT) therapist, a member of Behavior Analysis of Language and Cognition – International (BALC-I) initiative, the Behavior Analysis and Neuroscience Laboratory (LACEN) and the Learning, Development and Health Laboratory (LADS). He has published over 50 peer reviewed articles, book chapters and organized books. João’s main research interest is Relational Frame Theory, working in a broad range of applications of the account from basic research with transformation of functions and relational flexibility to applied research investigating social bias and the development of derived relational repertoires.

Disseminating Behavior Science Through Classic Experiments

Being a scientist cannot be an endeavor focused on the present. Even when a specific scientist’s contributions are outstanding at his time, science is always directed to the future, for technology to improve the human experience. Additionally, being a scientist is not an individual effort focused solely on someone’s career. Instead, science is a collaborative endeavour, not only when developing research, sharing knowledge, collecting data, and reporting results, but also in forming scientists that will dedicate their lives to the same activities keeping scientific fields alive in the future.

This blog post will report on the organisation of a book, but in some broader way, it also talks about the dissemination of behavior analysis in Brazil more generally. Brazil’s Behavior Analysis (BA) community is the second biggest, only behind the USA, considering the number of members (Todorov & Hanna, 2010). Brazil’s (BA) community also comprises many researchers contributing to influential national and international journals as authors and editors. Besides these achievements reached by the Brazilian BA community, education on this topic is insufficient, and there is an apparent demand for qualified professionals. To illustrate, consider that Brazil has more than 200 million habitants, with around 450 thousand psychologists despite having only 21 postgraduate programs in BA, many of them created in the last 15 years (list provided by ACeará Cast). In addition, considering recent data from BACB, Brazil has only 46 certified behavior analysts and only 10 BCBA-D. Regarding that, in the applied context, professional demand is limited; we can imagine that Portuguese resources focused on experimental research are also scarce.

Organizers of “Classical Experiments in Behavior Analysis”, João de Almeida (left), Paulo Guerra (middle) and Carlos Cançado (right)

Worried about the formation of Brazilian BA researchers, we (Paulo, João, and Carlos) idealised the book “Classic Experiments in Behavior Analysis.” This book was conceived from our shared passion for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (EAoB). The book aims to introduce undergraduate students to research topics in BA through the retelling of classical experiments. Unfortunately, EAoB is often considered challenging, with complex methodological descriptions and a certain distance from everyday issues. These characteristics frequently make early learners consider EAoB a daunting and intimidating topic. With this in mind, and inspired by popular science books, especially “Forty studies that changed Psychology” by Roger Hock, we formatted the initial idea of the book. In each chapter, the authors discuss one relevant topic in BA through the lens describing a “classic” experiment. ‘Classic’ does not necessarily mean the oldest study, but rather one recognised as influential in that specific area of research, serving as a context for producing more scientific knowledge. Thus, in each chapter, the experiment (or experiments), serve as a background for the presentation of that topic (e.g., private events, behavioural history, stimulus control, etc.). Given that the focus was novice students in BA, all chapters were written in didactical and accessible language, also trying to establish relations among the research procedures and results and day-to-day or applied contexts. Each chapter provides a detailed account of one specific classic experiment and its impact on the field. Chapters were written by renowned researchers, experts on each of the themes explored. These authors also suggest further material for the readers to start to develop a deeper perspective on each topic.

Covers of both volumes, Volume 1 in green, image provided by William Cheselden, and Volume 2 in purple, image provided by Deborah Skinner.

“Classic Experiments in Behavior Analysis” was possible because of the collaboration and generosity of multiple researchers from Brazil and abroad. The book comprises two volumes, and the collective work realised can be observed literally from the front cover of each one. The cover from Volume One is a picture from “Ostheography” created by William Cheselden and includes commentary from prof. Alexandre Dittrich (UFPR), while the cover from Volume Two, gently assigned by Deborah Skinner, daughter of B. F. Skinner, showing two jumping horses, is accompanied by a commentary from prof. Yara Nico. In addition, Professor Deisy de Souza (UFSCar), recently awarded for Distinguished Service to Behavior Analysis by the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis, wrote the Foreword. Furthermore, outstanding behavior analysts contributed as authors to the book including Kennon Lattal (West Virginia University), João Cláudio Todorov (UNB), Armando Machado (Universidade do Minho), Júlio César de Rose (UFSCar), Lincoln Gimenez (UNB), and Michael Perone (West Virginia University), along with many other researchers. We cannot thank all the authors enough for their collaboration and cooperation in this effort. Some of the classic experiments selected were Reynolds (1961), Weiner (1964), Skinner (1948), Galizio (1979), Lubinski and Thompson (1987), Sidman and Tailby (1982), Seligman (1967), Nevin (1974), and Sidman (1953), for example. These are just some of the topics of 34 original chapters in Portuguese and three translations presented in English. Both volumes are distributed freely via the links referenced below.

Finally, at the time of writing the current post, it is worth proudly noting that both volumes have 22,560 downloads on ResearchGate, and probably an equivalent number on the Walden4 website, which published the book. Talking about a book organisation carried out by three friends, the long process to release both volumes freely counted not only with infinite demands and tasks but also with many fun meetings and conversations. We hope that these volumes inspire future researchers to follow the path of experimental research in Behavior Analysis, which has consistently shown to us to be both rewarding and fulfilling.

Some Additional Resources: 


Hock, R. R. (2013). Forty studies that changed psychology: explorations into the history of psychological research (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.; London, Pearson.

Soares, P. G., de Almeida, J.H, Cançado, C. R. X. (2016). Experimentos Clássicos em Análise do Comportamento* [Classic Experiments in Behavior Analysis] , Vol. 1. Brasília: Instituto Walden4.

Soares, P. G., de Almeida, J.H, Cançado, C. R. X. (2019). Experimentos Clássicos em Análise do Comportamento* [Classic Experiments in Behavior Analysis] , Vol. 2. Brasília: Instituto Walden4.

Todorov J.C., Hanna E. S. (2010) Análise do comportamento no Brasil. Psicologia: Teoria E Pesquisa. 2010;26(spe):143–153.