Where Some of the Most-Noticed 2023 Behavior Analysis Articles Attracted Attention

In a previous post I presented the “Greatest Hits of Dissemination Impact” among articles that appeared in 2023 behavior analysis journals. That list was based on the Altmetric Attention Score, which aggregates mentions from a variety of sources typically dominated by non-scientists, including news stories, social media, blogs, policy documents, and more.

[For more on using altmetric data to monitor dissemination impact, see here and here and here. For posts addressing the dissemination impact of 2022 behavior analysis articles, see here and here and here and here.]

Now we’ll take a quick look at where some of those 2023 behavior analysis articles got their attention. As I’ve mentioned before, most sources of altmetric attention take months or years after article publication to accumulate, so in a short window of a year or so most recorded attention is going to come from fast-appearing sources: social media and news stories. For your interest an entertainment, below are the articles that received the most mentions from these two sources.

News Stories

Just as in 2022, very few behavior analysis articles recorded any news mentions (just 7 of the 463 articles in the Altmetric.com database). There may be two reasons for this. First, it’s likely true that not a lot of behavior analysis articles get news attention. Whether this is because news outlets aren’t interested in what we do, or aren’t made aware of its significance, is unclear. More on this in a moment. Second, the Altmetric.com database monitors only selected news sources, so what’s in the table is to some degree an undercount. For instance, one Behavior Analysis in Practice article by Clay et al. recorded 37 news mentions in the database in 2022; however, deeper digging showed that it was mentioned in about 100 news stories with a potential reach of 81,000,000 readers! Unfortunately for our purposes, deeper digging is not easy to do, as the best tools for tracking news coverage are available only by expensive subscription.

Fittingly, the article with the most news mentions in the Altmetric.com data base was one with obvious public policy implications. That’s how it was treated in the news stories.

Where positive news coverage of behavior analysis is concerned, more is better, so it’s important to think about how to leverage more attention in the future. One study I read said that a major predictor of altmetric atttention generally is when an article is accompanied by a press release. That’s consistent with the story of how the 2022 Clay et al. article went viral, and in a previous post I delved into why getting news coverage may require more than simply being newsworthy.

News Mentions Article Title Journal
9 Between the Lines: Integrating the Science of Reading and the Science of Behavior to Improve Reading Outcomes for Australian Children BSI
3 Compassion in Autism Services: A Preliminary Framework for Applied Behavior Analysis BAP
3 An individualized approach to teaching adults with autism to successfully navigate job interviews via remote instruction JABA
2 Early life adversity in dogs produces altered physiological and behavioral responses during a social stress-buffering paradigm JEAB
2 Breaks and productivity: An exploratory analysis JABA
2 Magis – A magical adventure: Using a mobile game to deliver an ACT intervention for elementary schoolchildren in classroom settings JCBS
For a key to journal-name abbreviations, see the end of this post

Social Media

The Altmetric.com database monitors several social media platforms, but with rare exceptions most mentions of journal articles it records come from Twitter/X. I’ll mention in passing that the database ignores some very popular platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, so what’s presented below could understate the attention received by some articles.

For anyone who’s attuned to social media, it also goes without saying that these days Twitter/X is a bit of a mess. Odd changes in platform policy, the impact of troublesome bots, bad publicity generated by an eccentric owner, and other issues have significantly cut into the platform’s credibility.  Even so, my thesis about social media remains that, while it tends to tap lowest common denominators, it is also the place you find the most eyes, so there are benefits to positive comments about behavior analysis cropping up in people’s feeds.

For present purposes, let’s focus on two things. First, the numbers in the table below are rather middling, as it’s possible for a journal article to receive thousands of mentions on Twitter/X. At this writing, one 2023 article on long COVID, in Nature Reviews Microbiology, has received close to 26,000 mentions.

Social media users know that you have to work for your attention. Far be it for this rickety old Boomer to advise anyone on how to manage their social media presence, but see some relevant comments in this post.

Second, even a rickety old Boomer like me knows that, where social media attention is concerned, what people say matters as much as how many mentions you get, and here Twitter/X is particularly fraught for behavior analysts. I wrote in an earlier post about how the neurodiversity community (or at least an aggressive and hostile subset of it) tweet-bombed one 2022 article with numerous comments that were broadly critical of applied behavior analysis. That happened a fair amount in 2023. For instance, the majority of Twitter/X mentions for the #1 article in the table were of this sort, including posts/reposts like:

  • Reminder that the theory of “Extinction burst” is abusive, used by ABA, and a literal dog training technique
  • “Training” – last time I checked, I’m a human being with basic human rights, not a pet dog
  • “We don’t know why she’s upset, we only took away her only way to communicate”
  • I’m gonna train you to give up your fuckin’ kneecaps and see if you experience “problem behavior”

Each of the articles in the table below experienced some of the same treatment, as did many other articles that got a lot of social media attention (neurodiversity agitators [or their bots] are nothing if not thorough!). Much of the criticism was crass, uninformed, and barely related to the content of the article under attack, but it was colorful and plentiful. This matters because Twitter/X posts have a tendency to be shared: For instance, neurodiversity critics of the 2022 article I mentioned above had a total of 178,000 followers, so a lot of people are hearing that ABA is “abuse” and whatnot. This creates a public-image black eye that we ought not ignore. For a thoughtful discussion of the problem, see a recent article by Graber and Graber, and see my own analysis of the problem here.

Note: Counts of social media mentions are volatile over time. New mentions appear and some old ones disappear (e.g., when users delete them or their entire accounts). For instance, the number of Twitter/X mentions of one 2022 article with which I’m associated has dropped by about 1/3 since last year. Therefore consider the numbers presented below to be a snapshot in time.

Twitter/X Posts Article Title Journal
375 Implementing skill-based treatment within a classroom setting for an adolescent with autism BI
118 Evaluating functional communication training without extinction in public school settings BI
101 Registered Behavior Technicians’ Training Experiences for Severe Problem Behavior: A Survey BAP
94 Contingent Electric Skin Shock: An Empirical or Ideological Issue? POBS
90 Evaluation of schedule thinning following treatment for aggression maintained by access to higher level restrictive and repetitive behavior JABA
For a key to journal-name abbreviations, see the end of this post

Postcript: Future Citation Potential

Altmetric Attention Scores measure attention from non-scholarly sources, but of course another function of journal articles is to contribute to scientific progress. This is sometimes measured via citations, but citations accumulate too slowly to examine meaningfully during the first year after an article is published. As I’ve written previously, however, “reads” in the Mendeley citation manager tool** correlate positively with future citations, and thus may provide a peek at future citation outcomes.

The table below shows the Top 5 2023 articles in terms of Mendeley readership. What’s notable is that four of the five were published in Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science — as was true for an astounding 21 of the top 25 articles and 39 of the top 50. Previously I’ve speculated that there’s a simple reason for this: Research on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy tends to address a wide variety of problems about which a lot of people care. That may not be true enough for other types of behavior analysis research… or perhaps in some cases we just do a bad job of conveying why the research is important. Food for thought for those who believe behavior analysis deserves a bigger presence on the societal stage.

**Note: Mendeley counts are regarded as a form of scholarly impact and thus do not contribute to the Altmetric Attention Score.

Mendeley Readers Article Title Journal
84 Functional analysis of problem behavior: A 40-year review JABA
69 In the shadow of COVID-19: A randomized controlled online ACT trial promoting adolescent psychological flexibility and self-compassion JCBS
45 Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for caregivers of children with chronic conditions: A mixed methods systematic review (MMSR) of efficacy, process, and acceptance JCBS
45 Acceptance and commitment training for reducing burnout in medical students during a clinical clerkship in psychiatry and palliative care: A pilot study JCBS
36 A guided online ACT intervention may increase psychological well-being and support school engagement in adolescents JCBS

Key to Journal Abbreviations

  • BAP = Behavior Analysis in Practice
  • BI = Behavioral Interventions
  • BSI = Behavior and Social Issues
  • JABA = Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis
  • JCBS = Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science
  • JEAB = Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
  • POBS = Perspectives on Behavior Science