James Madison University

Behavior Analysis Concentration

Applications for this concentration are reviewed once each semester.  The application deadlines are October 15 for consideration during the Fall semester and March 15 for consideration during the Spring semester.

Behavior Analysis Concentration Application Form

For information on the field of behavior analysis, please read the information below.  If you have additional questions about behavior analysis or about the behavior analysis concentration, please contact Dr. Bryan Saville (savillbk@jmu.edu).

What is Behavior Analysis?

PHOTO: Animal containers"Skinner" boxes used for behavior analysis studies using rats. (Behavior analysis includes research projects with human subjects as well.)

Behavior analysis (BA) is the study of behavior as a natural science. It emerged from the psychology of learning, the subdiscipline within psychology concerned with the study of classical and operant conditioning. Today, behavior analysis has two main branches: the experimental analysis of behavior (EAB) and applied behavior analysis ( ABA). EAB is the basic science of this field and over many decades has accumulated a substantial and well-respected empirical research literature identifying fundamental principles of behavior. This literature provides the scientific foundation for ABA, which is (a) an applied science that develops methods of changing behavior and (b) a profession that provides services to meet diverse behavioral needs (what some might refer to as behavioral technology). The philosophy of radical behaviorism provides the conceptual and theoretical foundation for both branches.

Behavior analysts recognize that both nature and nurture shape behavior. We study both human and nonhuman behavior, seeking explanations in terms of empirically validated functional relations between individuals and their environments. Thus, although behavior analysts recognize the critical role of biological processes in determining behavior, we assert that environmental factors play an equally important role and strive to elucidate the ways in which they do so. Accordingly, behavior analysts spend most of their time studying the impact of environmental changes on the behavior of individuals.

What do Behavior Analysts do?

Experimental behavior analysts work in academic institutions, government agencies, and health care facilities. They conduct their research primarily in laboratory settings under carefully controlled conditions. Historically, EAB researchers investigated processes like reinforcement, extinction, aversive control, and stimulus control, and many researchers continue these lines of research today. However, the basic research interests of behavior analysts extend to phenomena that are more complex as well and include studies on human development, choice, cultural design, impulsivity and self-control, judgment and decision-making, remembering and forgetting, social behavior, and verbal behavior. Additionally, in recent years, behavior analysts have joined with scientists from other disciplines to conduct research in interdisciplinary fields such as behavioral economics, behavioral gerontology, behavioral neuroscience, behavioral pharmacology, and behavioral toxicology; training in EAB provides a firm foundation for further study or work in all of these areas.

ABA professionals engage in the specific and comprehensive use of principles of learning, in order to address behavioral needs of widely varying individuals in diverse settings. People with behavior-analytic training are in demand in school, health care, criminal justice, substance-abuse treatment, and organizational settings. Individuals with a bachelor's degree and training in BA can find employment in hospitals; medical schools; mental health centers; health maintenance organizations; health, sport, and fitness centers; a wide variety of regular and special educational settings; forensic settings; research facilities; and residential and home-based programs for individuals with autism1,2 and developmental disabilities. BA skills also are valuable in a variety of applied animal science, business management, and human resource careers.

The Behavior Analysis Concentration Curriculum

By completing the Behavior Analysis Concentration (BAC) at JMU, you will gain an understanding of how events in the social and physical environment affect behavior and what you can do to change behavior and improve lives. Knowledge of behavior analysis will assist you in a variety of careers, and as a Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst, you can achieve high paying professional careers serving the needs of individuals facing cognitive, emotional, or behavioral challenges. As a BAC student, you will study the basic principles of behavior, including conditioning processes and other properties of learning. You will learn about scientific methods of collecting and analyzing behavior data, conducting experiments, and analyzing the causes of problem behavior. You will also learn behavioral techniques for building new skills or replacing problematic behavior, managing your own behavior, using behavior analysis in educational settings, and solving performance problems in business organizations and industrial settings.

The JMU Department of Psychology Behavior Analysis Concentration is a sequence of courses that allows students to focus their studies toward conceptual, empirical, and practical issues in behavior analysis. It includes five courses that provide the coursework required for eligibility to take the Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst® (BCABA®) examination. It also will provide additional knowledge, skills, and abilities that are valuable for those seeking employment with agencies that provide behavior-analytic services and for those seeking further (i.e., graduate) education in behavior analysis. In some circumstances, additional courses that meet the BACB® experience requirements also may be arranged. Specifically, the required coursework includes:

  • Psyc 180: Introduction to Behavior Analysis3 (3 cr)
  • Psyc 390: Psychology of Learning (3cr)
  • Psyc 480: Applied Behavior Analysis (3cr)
  • At least one of the following:
    • Psyc 402: Independent Study: Practicum-Behavior Analysis4,5 (4 cr)
    • Psyc 402: Independent Study: Readings-Behavior Analysis4(3-4 cr)
    • Psyc 402: Independent Study: Research-Behavior Analysis4 (3-4 cr)
    • Psyc 402: Independent Study: Teaching-Behavior Analysis4 (3-4 cr)
  • At least one of the following:
    • Psyc 493: Laboratory in Psychology4 (3 cr)
    • Psyc 497: Senior Seminar4 (3 cr)
    • Psyc 499: Honors Thesis in Behavior Analysis4 (6 cr)

How to Declare the Behavior Analysis Concentration

If you are interested in this concentration, take some of the required courses. Most students will start by taking Psyc 180 (Introduction to Behavior Analysis), but if you have already taken Psyc 390 (Psychology of Learning) discuss your further course options with the Behavior Analysis Concentration Coordinator, Dr. Bryan Saville. (Introduction to Behavior Analysis is not open to students who have taken Psyc 390 or Psyc 480.)

Because an important purpose of the program is to prepare students for a national certification examination, we will admit only students who present evidence that they are likely to be successful in this program. Typically, students must earn a grade of at least a B in Psyc 180 to be admitted. The BAC has a rolling admission policy. To apply to the BAC, complete the online application form linked at the top of this webpage. The Behavior Analysis Concentration Admissions Committee reviews applications spring and fall and recommends candidates for admission by the Head of the Department of Psychology. Because the program includes several intensive individualized experiences, we can accommodate only a limited number of students each semester6. The number of applicants accepted each semester depends both on the number of qualified students and on the number that we can accommodate in advanced courses6 .

Where can you find out more?

To find out more, contact the Concentration Coordinator, Dr. Bryan Saville (savillbk@jmu.edu). For more information on Certification in Behavior Analysis, see the BACB web site.

1a In the area of autism intervention, applied behavior analysis has been misrepresented somewhat. In particular, individuals often equate ABA with Intensive Behavior Intervention (IBI), a specific program developed by Dr. Ivar Lovaas at UCLA that is also known as discrete trial training (DTT) or Lovaas therapy. In fact, this program is one specific example of an ABA treatment program. Other specific ABA treatments for autism include pivotal response training (PRT), Natural Environment Training (NET), Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), and Analysis of Verbal Behavior (AVB).

2The number of reported cases of children with autism has more than tripled in Virginia since 1992. With this dramatic increase comes a critical shortage in the number of professionals trained in applied behavior analysis, the ONLY type of treatment listed as being “objectively substantiated as effective” by the Association for Science in Autism Treatment

3 Students should plan to complete Psyc 180 before enrolling in Psyc 390. Students who have completed or have transfer credit for Psyc 390 or Psyc 480 cannot take Psyc 180And should talk with the BAC coordinator.

4 Only certain sections will qualify; consult with the concentration coordinator before enrolling.

5 This course will count toward the experience requirements necessary to take the BCABA® national certification examination.

6 Admission the program does not guarantee admission to the advanced experiences. Excellent performance in early experiences is required for admission to advanced experiences such as Psyc 402.