If you intend to pursue a degree program and ultimately a career in behavior analysis, you should know that this field is considered a scientific discipline. Not only should you expect to take courses in the natural and physical sciences, but you should anticipate that your knowledge of scientific principles will be directly involved in your success in this field. Behavior analysis isn’t a subject in which the science classes you take are incidental to your program of study and matter primarily because they count toward a general education requirement. Understanding the science behind why people behave in certain ways is crucial to success in this field.

Behavior Analysis as a Science

Behavior analysis shares many similarities with fields like education and psychology, which blends elements of both social and natural sciences. It’s understandable that students may not immediately view the field of behavior analysis as a science in the same way they would see microbiology or biochemistry as one. However, as you begin studying this field, you will find that it is a scientific discipline because of the way it approaches behavior: as a response to scientific factors in the environment. These factors are variables that can be manipulated for experimental research purposes as well as clinical intervention purposes.

If science refers to any data-driven, systematic exploration that relies on observation and experimental research to understand and explain phenomena, the field of behavior analysis clearly meets this definition.

Developing a Solid Foundation of Science Knowledge as an Undergraduate

Unless you plan to remain at the paraprofessional technician level throughout your career in the field of behavior analysis, you will need a bachelor’s degree. You don’t have to major in behavior analysis or even in psychology or education as an undergraduate student, but you should strive to take enough science courses to become familiar with the scientific method and the systematic processes used in research and empirical-based decision-making.

Most undergraduate programs require students to complete science and mathematics coursework as part of their general education requirements. You might take laboratory classes in biology or chemistry. If you major in psychology or behavior analysis as an undergraduate, you will likely take at least some coursework in quantitative research methods and statistical analysis.

With only a bachelor’s degree, the credential you would qualify for is Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). You would need a master’s or doctoral degree to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). 

Studies in Data Measurement and Experimental Design

Whether you’re pursuing the undergraduate- or graduate-level credential from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, you need to meet coursework standards in six content areas. Notably, one of these content areas is Measurement, Data Display, Interpretation and Experimental Design. Under the newest set of guidelines, which will come into effect in 2022, your studies in data measurement and experimental design will account for 45 out of the 315 total hours needed for the BCBA credential or 30 out of the 225 hours for the BCaBA credential.

Within this subject area, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board requires candidates to develop competency in specific tasks. In the subfield of data measurement, for example, you must be able to create the operational definitions of behavior that are used in conducting experiments. By the time candidates are ready for the credentialing exam, they must be able to measure different aspects of behavior – ranging from frequency of occurrence to duration and strength of the response – and distinguish between those types of measurements. Through an education in behavior analysis, students learn how to develop data measurement and sampling procedures and how to use these procedures in practice in a research setting. Understanding data is crucial to using it effectively, so being able to graph data and interpret those graphs is also part of the task list.

Under the category of experimental design, the required proficiencies emphasize single-subject research methods and understanding different types of variables, kinds of validity and forms of analysis that could be used. Single-subject experimental designs treat individuals’ past behavior as the control, rather than having a separate population to serve as a control group, which is the standard method in many other areas of scientific research. Because behavioral responses to stimuli vary from one individual to another and today’s intervention plans are individualized, single-subject experimental designs make sense in this field.

Behavior analysis research focuses on the efficacy of interventions on outcomes like skill acquisition and behavior reduction in an individual – so comparing one person’s responses over time make more sense than comparing that individual to another control group.

Additional Resources

How Do You Become a Certified Behavior Analyst?

What Courses Will I Take to Become a Certified Behavior Analyst?

What Should I Know About Taking the Board Certified Behavior Analyst Exam?