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


In a  companion post I highlighted the 21st century behavior analysis articles that have had the most dissemination impact, as defined by the Altmetric Attention Score. Now let’s look at the articles that had the most scholarly impact, as defined in terms of citations.

On December 15, 2023, I used the Altmetric Explorer app to examine the Dimensions Citations count for all articles published since 2000 in a variety of behavior analysis journals.

[Please note that there are several different tools for tracking citations, and they all work somewhat differently. Results from the various tools are positively correlated, with Dimensions counts among the most conservative, and Google Scholar counts the most liberal. All of the tools detect citations that the others don’t, so the only appropriate use of these tools is to compare relative citation counts for different articles as depicted by the same tool. That’s what I did here, and somewhat different results might be obtained using a different tool.]

The Top 30 articles are listed in the table at the end of this post. For dissemination impact, unsurprisingly, most of the top-performing articles focused on application, but scanning the citation table reveals a hefty handful of articles with a more basic, theoretical, or methodological focus.

A cut-off of 95 citations yielded a list of the 305 most-cited papers in 21st Century behavior analysis. I selected this cut-off because it appears that, across several disciplines, less than 1% of articles achieve a citation count of around that high.

This pie chart shows the proportion of most-cited articles that came from each of 14 journals (for several other journals, none of their articles made the list). The citation top dog journal is Behavior Modification, followed by Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA), Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, and Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB).

Full disclosure: You could quibble with these data in lots of ways. Some journals (like JABA) publish tons of articles every year, and so presumably have better odds of generating a citation overperformer, compared to, say, The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, which has averaged only about 5 articles per year since 2000. One of the journals (Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science) didn’t start publishing till 2006, and may have been disadvantaged in this way. The large majority of behavior analysis journals are applied, so more-basic journals (like JEAB) may be at a disadvantage when it comes to citation opportunities. Journals with a general topical focus have a bigger potential audience than journals that specialize in a niche topic. And so on.

Nevertheless, it remains objectively true that some journals produced more highly-cited articles than others, and that is one fairly standard measure of journal productivity.

You’ll notice in the table below that most of the Top 30 articles are from the early 2000s. This is expected given that citations usually take a lot of years to build up. Repeat this analysis in 10 or 15 years, and some articles from the 2010s might look more impactful than they do today.

You don’t have to spend much time with that Top 30 table to see that the topics that pulled the most citations don’t necessarily correspond to the topics that generate the most published articles in our discipline. Notably, autism is a minority topic in that table.

Which raises a final point. If I were just starting my career, I’d want to take a careful look at the kinds of papers that have gotten a lot of scholarly attention in recent years. While it’s important, of course, to study that interest you, there are distinct benefits to studying things that other people are interested in. This is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do issue. Once made a list of my favorite published articles I’ve been involved with, and discovered that almost without exception they were among my least cited papers!

If you want to build a research career, you need things that other people control: not just citations, but also grants, invitations to speak at conferences, appointments to editorial boards, and so on. If nobody’s reading your stuff, these goodies will be hard to obtain. Picking topics to study that others care about is a key step toward entering verbal communities that can sustain you for the rest of your career. It’s worth choosing strategically.

The Top 30 Most-Cited Behavior Analysis Articles of the 21st Century (So Far)

According to Dimensions Citations; data from via the Altmetric Explorer app.

Rank Citations Title Journal, Year
1 1511 Measuring experiential avoidance: A preliminary test of a working model TPR, 2004
2 949 Assessing the clinical or applied importance of behavior change through social validation BM, 2016
3 929 Functional analysis of problem behavior: A review JABA, 2003
4 774 Within-subject comparison of real and hypothetical money rewards n delay discounting JEAB, 2002
5 688 Positive behavior support: Evolution of an applied science JPBI, 2002
6 584 Evidence-based practices in classroom management: Considerations for research to practice ETC, 2008
7 578 Effect size in single-case research: A review of nine nonoverlap techniques BM, 2011
8 571 Examining the effects of schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports on student outcomes JPBI, 2009
9 535 Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools JBPI, 2000
10 506 A randomized, wait-list controlled effectiveness trial assessing school-wide positive behavior support in elementary schools JPBI, 2009
11 499 Effective analysis of reaction time data TPR, 2008
12 484 A randomized controlled effectiveness trial of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and cognitive therapy for anxiety and depression BM, 2007
13 483 Motivating operations and terms to describe them: Some further refinements JABA, 2003
14 468 Thirty years of research on the functional analysis of problem behavior JABA, 2013
15 461 Delay discounting: I’m a k, you’re a k JEAB, 2011
16 430 Ten year revision of the brief behavioral activation treatment for depression: Revised treatment manual BM, 2011
17 424 A brief behavioral activation treatment for depression BM, 2001
18 402 Using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with children with autism: Assessment of PECS acquiition, speech, social-communicative-behavior, and problem behavior JABA, 2002
19 394 Intercoder reliability and validity of WebPlot Digitizer in extracting graphed data BM, 2016
20 393 Cognitive empathy and emotional empathy in human behavior and evolution TPR, 2006
21 390 Equivalence relations and the reinforcement contingency JEAB, 2000
22 374 Functional communication training: A review and practical guide BAP, 2008
23 370 Dynamic response-by-response models of matching behavior in rhesus monkeys JEAB, 2005
24 348 Intensive behavioral treatment at school for 4- to 7-year-old children with autism BM, 2002
25 341 Pervasive negative effects of rewards on intrinsic motivation: The myth continues POBS, 2001
26 335 Temporal discounting: Basic research and the analysis of socially important behavior JABA, 2001
27 334 The School-Wide Evaluation Tool (SET): A research instrument for assessing school-wide positive behavior support JPBI, 2004
28 322 An objective review of the effectiveness and essential characteristics of performance feedback in organizational settings (1985-1998) JOBM, 2001
29 317 Cognitive-behavioral interventions to reduce suicide behavior BM, 2008
30 316 Delay discounting by pathological gamblers JABA, 2003

Key to Journal Name Abbreviations

BAP = Behavior Analysis in Practice

BI = Behavioral Interventions

BM = Behavior Modification

BSI = Behavior and Social Issues

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

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