One Book for One Science: A Review of Roane et al.’s (2024). Behavior Analysis: Translational Perspectives and Clinical Practice

A new edited volume that I’ll discuss as a dynamic textbook option (but will also be a valuable addition to any personal library).

One of my favorite developments in the history of behavior analysis took place in the early 1990s, at a time when the basic and applied wings of our discipline were perhaps not as well acquainted as they could be. In an effort to spur what today we call translation, the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) sponsored a series of invited articles, in each of which a team of basic and applied authors together explored the practical implications of advances in the basic laboratory.

These articles are now dated but at the time there wasn’t anything like them. They helped set the stage for the present day in which translational implications are regularly explored by both basic and applied scientists, to the extent that JABA and Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior both have committed an associate editor position entirely to evaluate translational research.

Our field’s advanced textbooks have been a little slow to embrace the translational zeitgest. There are good books out there for a basic principles class and good ones for an introduction to applied behavior analysis, but few books that marry the two comfortably — something that seems important in a world where better than 90% of behavior analysis students are interested in application. A problem with many principles-focused textbooks is that they misread the audience by assuming that applied students have a lot of pre-existing interest in basic research and can, without special assistance, glean its applied relevance.

In my opinion, one major breakthrough occurred with the publication of Madden et al.’s (2021) An Introduction to Behavior Analysis, which was designed with the translational focus in mind. That book’s best use may be to provide students with applied career goals with a rigorous introduction to basic principles, while never losing sight of the applied implications. In its best chapters, it stretches the imagination on both fronts by prompting new ways of thinking about principles and illuminating possibilities for news kinds of applications.

The latest entry to this important niche is 2024’s Behavior Analysis: Translational Perspectives and Clinical Practice (Guilford), edited by Roane, Craig, Saini, and Ringdahl. It’s a gem that masterfully straddles the basic-applied threshold. In each of 20 topical chapters, teams of basic and applied authors explore not only the relevance of basic research to application but also the implications of applied phenomena for basic research and theory. In other words, translation is presented as a bidirectional flow of insights, and it’s impossible to characterize most of the chapters as more-basic or more-applied. This is one of the few books to successfully present basic and applied behavior analysis as a unified science.

In addition to pro forma topics like reinforcement schedules and punishment, the book touches on areas of major advances in recent decades like behavioral economics, stimulus relations, and resistance to change and relapse. I especially like the three-chapter sequence on classical conditioning (often mostly overlooked in applied behavior analysis books), the third of which is a top notch summary of research on fear conditioning in clinical problems. I also especially like the chapters on motivating operations, choice, and impulsivity. Get me into a bar conversation and I’ll quibble with the emphasis in a handful of the chapters, but honestly but there’s not a weak one in the book. It’s rare to see an edited book with such evenness of chapter quality.

The chapters (see here for a free sample chapter) are well written but dense with information, and in some cases heavy on procedural details that are needed for a proper understanding of the research literature but not necessarily an easy sell to practice-focused applied students. My hunch is that Translational Perspectives is a bit too advanced for some masters-level courses, and I doubt it will work for all but a few exceptionally advanced undergraduate courses. The book might be best suited for students who’ve completed rigorous undergraduate courses on basic principles and ABA. In my perfect world I’d use it in a two-semester graduate course that permits a leisurely stroll through all of the topics, perhaps, in some cases, supplemented by primary source readings.

If there’s a downside to a thoroughly translational book, it might be that traditionally our courses have been conceived as more-basic or more-applied, so using this book could force instructors to update their approach. That is a good thing. Back in 2010, Bud Mace and I wrote that translating is a unique repertoire that develops through multiple-exemplar practice. In this sense, a 1970s-style curriculum, incorporating separate basic and applied courses, does students no favors. It takes a “train and hope” approach to translation that’s unlikely to yield adequate benefits. Translational Perspectives is a major contribution for refusing to accept this status quo.