Getting Noticed in the 21st Century (So Far): Top Behavior Analysis Articles for Dissemination Impact


In previous posts I’ve discussed how altmetric data (representing mentions of scholarly articles in non-scholarly sources like news stories, blogs, social media, public policy documents, and more) can be considered a measure of dissemination impact. These data show where people who are not scientists are paying attention to our science of behavior. The data aren’t by any means a complete picture of dissemination, the ultimate endpoint of which is for everyday people to demand and use what behavior analysis has to offer. But if that endpoint matters to us, we should by all means pay attention to who’s talking about us and what they are saying.

In this post I’ll summarize what altmetric data tell us about the dissemination impact of behavior analysis articles published so far in the 21st century. I used the Altmetric Explorer app on December 15, 2023, to determine the mentions of articles published in 16 behavior analysis journals (I checked for a few others but found no mentions in the database). For each article, those mentions combine to create an Altmetric Attention Score (see here for an explanation of how various types of mentions are weighted in creating the score).

The Attention Score ranges upward from 0 (no mentions), can currently a score of 20 equates to roughly the top 25% of the almost 25 million articles currently indexed in the database. I identified 330 behavior analysis articles, published since 2000, that have earned an attention score at least that high. The table at the end of this post lists the Top 30 articles, whose Attention Scores place them among the top 5% of all articles in the database.

Where The Action Is

Proportion of the top 21st Century (so far) behavior analysis articles, in terms of Altmetric Attention Score, that were published in each of 16 journals. See the end of this post for a key to journal name abbreviations.

The graph to the right shows the proportion of those 330 top-quartile articles that came from each of 16 journals. I’ve noted in previous posts that Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science seems to do an especially good job of recruiting societal attention, and indeed it ranks first in my survey despite being the youngest of all of the journals (it began publishing in 2012).

The other major players are Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA), Behavior Analysis in Practice (BAP, which has an explicit dissemination mission), and Behavior Modification (BM).

It’s unsurprising that applied journals dominate here. Among the Top 30 articles in the table at bottom, only two come from a basic-research journal (Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, JEAB), and both of those are translational articles. Probably the most surprising thing about the graph is that basic-focused journals (JEAB and The Psychological Record) are as well represented as they are. 

Major Sources of Attention

Among all of the altmetric mentions of 21st Century behavior analysis articles, about 85% came from social media; about 10% came from news outlets; and a shade under 2% came from blogs. These numbers parallel what’s true overall in the database: 80% social media, 7% news, and around 1% blogs. 

Among the Top 30 articles in the table, 18 received most of their mentions from news sources, 6 were primarily mentioned in social media, and the rest got mentions from multiple sources. 

It’s important to remember that not all mentions are complimentary. In practice, news outlets rarely cover science except to share interesting findings with the public. But the world of social media… well, this is a strange and volatile beast, as I’ll discuss in a moment.

Not Autism

For me, what most stands out among the most-noticed articles is how few of them represent the economic bread-and-butter of applied behavior analysis: autism. This is not to say that autism treatment is unimportant, only that, as other observers have suggested, it’s simply not a central concern for a large swath of the population. The table, which provides a glimpse of some of the other things that everyday people seem to care about, reminds us that attention is contingent.

This is hardly a novel observation. To hammer home the point that reader interests don’t always parallel the focus of research programs, see this recent list of most-read articles in APA journals. Five of the top 10 articles address behavior in or concerning popular media — a great example of behavior that might not be pathological or earth shaking, but people care about it nevertheless (here’s another example). A science of behavior, to be credible, must offer insights into this kind of behavior… indeed, to ALL kinds of behavior. 

Other Trends

Among the top-quartile articles, there was a slight tendency for very recent ones to be overrepresented: 27% were from 2013 or earlier; 34% were from 2014-2018; and 39% were from 2019-2023. In part, this probably is because the kinds of electronic sources that the database tracks get more use each year and thus produce more mentions in general. Below you can see how three types of mentions have increased in recent years. Based on this pattern, you’d expect mentions to increase for just about any randomly selected journal.

Growth of three types of mentions in the database, across years. Data obtained using the Altmetric Explorer app.

And yet that’s not true of all behavior analysis journals. Below is the trend over time for the six journals with the most top-quartile articles. JCBS, BAP, and possibly JABA show the expected increasing trend. But JEAB and Behavior Modification have been trending toward less dissemination impact as measured by the Altmetric Attention Score. I can’t say why this might the case; if you have ideas let me know.

Not All Attention is Desirable

I’ve mentioned that some articles get a lot of altmetric attention in social media, and also that goofy things can happen in social media. In the latter case, remember that social media platforms pretty much allow anybody to say pretty much anything, and this allows for mischief. In a previous post I wrote about how neurodiversity advocates used social media to attack a fairly mundane 2022 applied behavior analysis (ABA) article. The particular grenade that neurodiversity advocates like to lob is that ABA constitutes torture and abuse, and I speculated in my earlier post that in social media they tend to lob this grenade at journal articles when they see key words like “applied behavior analysis” and “autism.” They may not even read the article….

And there’s possible evidence for exactly that in my survey. Among the 330 top-quartile articles, I checked out the comments for 21 that received at least 100 posts on Twitter/X. For three of these the comments were not in English. Among the remaining 18, “neurodiversity bombing” accounted for a substantial proportion of post for 12 of them. In other words, in 2/3 of the cases I could check, a hopeful sign of dissemination impact turned out to be something else entirely.

It’s interesting that, among the 12 articles mentioned above, in 9 cases the title included “autism” and/or “ABA” or the article appeared in the primary journal with ABA in its name (JABA). Lots of other ABA/autism articles did not attract the attention of the neurodiversity crowd, even though they focused on individuals and procedures much like in the articles that were targeted. This is consistent with my speculation that those critics rarely bother to read the articles. Also consistent: Most of the criticism I saw was boilerplate stuff that said little about the actual study (e.g., “Another example of ABA abuse.”). 

I’ve described this problem in some detail to illustrate that counts of altmetric mentions are nice, but if you really want to be informed about dissemination impact you have to see what people out there are saying about a given article. If you were to subtract out neurodiversity bombing from the altmetric data set, at least a dozen articles would drop out of top quartile (these articles got most of their mentions in Twitter/X, and those turned out to be criticism).

next time: the 21st century articles with the most scholarly attention

Postscript: A Limitation of Altmetric Data

It should be noted that Attention Scores reflect mentions in electronic sources that the database monitors. It doesn’t monitor paper-only sources (like print news) and it samples only selected digital sources. For instance, Twitter/X and Facebook are included but Instagram and Tik Tok are not. In a previous post I described one behavior analysis article that got extensive news coverage in about 100 different outlets; however, the database recorded only a minority of these.

For what it’s worth, this problem has a parallel in the various tools that monitor scholarly citations, none of which can be considered 100% inclusive. The best you can do is to compare different articles using the same tool to see their relative citation counts. There’s no illusion that you’re necessarily tracking every single citation that exists.

Similarly, altmetric data provide a way to register relative amounts of attention earned by different articles, but they aren’t the last word on the absolute amount of dissemination impact created by any given article.

Top 30 Behavior Analysis Articles (Published Since 2000) in Terms of Altmetric Attention Score

See at bottom for a key to journal name abbreviations. Publication year reflects online-first release where relevant.

Rank Altmetric


Title Journal, Year Primary Mention Source(s)
1 547 The broader impact of Friend to Friend (F2F): Effects on teacher-student relationships, prosocial behaviors, and relationally and physically aggressive behaviors BM, 2016 news
2 427 Outcomes of a practical approach for improving conversation skills in adults with autism JABA, 2020 social media
3 407 Treatment gains from early and intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) are maintained 10 years later BM, 2019 news, social media
4 362 Positive greetings at the door: Evaluation of a low-cost, high-yield proactive classroom management strategy JPBI, 2018 news, social media
5 358 Enhancing early communication through infant sign training JABA, 2007 news
6 321 Psychological flexibility and inflexibility as sources of resiliency and risk during a pandemic: Modeling the cascade of COVID-19 stress on family systems with a contextual behavioral science lens JCBS. 2020 news
7 309 Depression and rural environment are associated with poor oral health among pregnant women in Northern Appalachia BM, 2015 news
8 297 Values are not just goals: Online ACT-based values training adds to goal setting in improving undergraduate college student performance JCBS, 2013 news
9 291 The top 10 reasons children with autism deserve ABA BAP, 2017 social media
10 285 A preliminary investigation of emotional and behavioral screening practices in K-12 schools ETC, 2014 news
11 283 Advancing methods in animal-assisted intervention: Demonstration of starting points in clinical practice for children with autism spectrum disorder BAP, 2022 news
12 272 Examining the correlates of psychological flexibility in romantic relationship and family dynamics: A meta-analysis JCBS, 2020 news, blogs, social media
13 264 Evaluating the duration of the competing response in habit reversal: A parametric analysis JABA, 2013 news
14 250 Dogs don’t always prefer their owners and can quickly form strong preferences for certain strangers over others JEAB, 2017 news, social media
15 248 Implementing skill-based treatment within a classroom setting for an adolescent with autism BI, 2023 social media
16 246 Use of a daily report card in an intervention package involving home-school communication to reduce disruptive behavior in preschoolers JPBI, 2012 news
17 245 Training kindergarten students lockdown drill procedures using behavioral skills training JABA, 2017 news
18 233 Effects of teacher greetings on student on-task behavior JABA, 2007 social media
19 222 Empirically derived profiles of teacher stress, burnout, self-efficacy, and coping and associated student outcomes JPBI, 2017 news, social media
20 214 A multisite cross-cultural replication of upper’s (1974) unsuccessful self-treatment of writer’s block JABA, 2007 blogs, social media
21 197 A parametric single-case analysis and social validation of the high-probability request sequence JPBI, 2021 social media
22 195 Climate change: The evidence and our options POBS, 2017 social media
23 192 Body image in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa BM, 2016 news
24 189 Adapted behavior therapy for persistently depressed primary care patients BM, 2009 news
25 186 School resource officers in public schools: A national review ETC, 2018 news
26 169 COVID-19: Psychological flexibility, coping, mental health, and wellbeing in the UK during the pandemic JCBS, 2020 news
27 168 Psychological flexibility in the context of COVID-19 adversity: Associations with distress JCBS, 2020 news
28 162 Effects of intranasal oxytocin on aggressive responding in antisocial personality disorder TPR, 2015 news
29 160 Using fidget spinners to improve on-task classroom behavior for students with ADHD BAP, 2021 news
30 156 Drug addiction: Is it a disease or is it based on choice? A review of Gene Heyman’s Addiction: A Disorder of Choice JEAB, 2011 news

Key to Journal Name Abbreviations

BAP = Behavior Analysis in Practice

BI = Behavioral Interventions

BM = Behavior Modification

BSI = Behavior and Social Issues

EJOBA = European Journal of Behavior Analysis

ETC = Education and Treatment of Children

JABA = journal of Applied Behavior Analysis

JCBS = Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science

JEAB = Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

JJBA = Japanese Journal of Behavior Analysis

JOBE = Journal of Behavioral Education

JOBM = Journal of Organizational Behavior Management

JPBI = Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions

POBS = Perspectives on Behavior Science

TAVB = The Analysis of Verbal Behavior

TPR = The Psychological Record