Remembering the classics: Books that took the science of behavior to a new level.

Remembering the classics: Books that took the science of behavior to a new level.

by Angela Cathey

With the New Year approaching, I’ve decided to put into writing a few of my favorite influences. Some of these are a bit “heavy” and others pure poetry of science. Though any of these books can be said to be exceptional on the whole, for some I focus on specific chapters and what they offer.

I chose these particular works for their “mind-stretching” capabilities. Like good post-apocalyptic sci-fi, they in so many ways, hint of what in human nature may save us or destroy us. I hope that the newer generations of behavior analysts will fall in love with these books as well.

  1. Handbook for Analyzing the Social Strategies of Everyday Life – Bernard Guerin, 2004

Bernard Guerin has the ambition of someone who loves the world and what good science can do for it. He has an integrative style that smacks of an avid reader. He brings together research from sociology, anthropology, and psychology under a behavior analytic framework. This volume, one of his two larger survey works, includes analysis of social contingencies broadly applicable to doing good Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), or Prosocial work. Further, the applications extend to simply understanding the social world in a way that allows one to be a better human to others.

Guerin’s handling of this material necessitates an understanding of the vast applications of behavior analytic principles. As an organizational interventionist, I find his work on allocation of resources in groups impressive. Bernard has a way of rather seamlessly unifying behavioral economics with large-scale contingencies and consumer behavior.

Of equal interest are Guerin’s sections on social strategies, trust, and group dynamics. Again, Guerin presents an impressive account of how one might understand the evolution of trust, and dynamics that influence it, across micro and macro contexts. If you are a behavior analyst interested in creating “real-world” change, this is one you shouldn’t miss.

  1. Analyzing Social Behavior by Bernard Guerin

This volume is Bernard Guerin’s earlier survey of behavior analytic principles as they apply to a wide array of important intrapersonal and interpersonal behaviors. Here Bernard handles a wide array of topics that most behavior analysts shy away from with thorough appreciation of the subjects, and his own limitations. Like Guerin’s other volumes this volume integrates findings from other sciences and provides the scaffolding needed for gaining an in-depth of knowledge of human behavior.

Of particular interest in this volume are his handlings of creativity and chapters like “Zen and the Art of Contingency-governed Behavior.” These chapters are fun and ground the new learner of behavior analysis in the wealth of applications the science affords. Further chapters on the impact of modern communication and media are rich with inspiration for applied researchers and provide great insight for integrative clinicians.

  1. Understanding Verbal Relations – Steven Hayes & Linda Hayes, 1992

This book can hardly be considered light reading, but should be considered essential reading for those in behavior analysis. With chapters like, “Verbal Relations, Time, and Suicide” written by Steve Hayes – it’s one that anyone in the field long enough will want to read. (If for only the reason that you’ll still hear argument over these points decades later.) One particularly good chapter is that written by Linda Hayes, “Equivalence as Process.” Here Linda Hayes describes an interbehavioral (Kantorian) view of events as interactions evolving through the ever-present historical context.

  1. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn, 1962

This is a great meta-science text. It takes a look at the science-of-science – how scientific paradigms form and shift under the process of science itself. This is about noticing our field’s influence on the creation of knowledge itself.

  1. Rule-Governed Behavior: Cognition, contingencies, and instructional control. Ed. Steven Hayes.

This is admittedly fairly dry reading. It’s an important read due to its thorough handling of rule-governed behavior. This highly influential category of human behavior is known to influence huge swaths of adult human behavior and expereince. With chapters with basic analyses of “knowing,” “understanding,” and “listening,” it’s a dense but worthwhile reads.

  1. Clinical Behavior Analysis by Michael Dougher

Whether your training is centered more based in clinical psychology or directly in behavior analysis, there are few who wouldn’t benefit from a read of this text. The author presents a different view of many forms of “psychological disorder.” This is a good one to read if you’re into considering the impact of the medical model and other ways of understanding variation in human behavior.

  1. Mastering the Clinical Conversation. Matt Villatte & Jen Villatte

We’re now seeing more writing from the clinical and applied RFT folks that are approaching the level of fluidity seen in this volume; however, this is still a great read to start your journey towards learning Relational Frame Theory (RFT).

  1. Relational Frame Theory: A post-Skinnerian account of human language and cognition. Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, and Roche

“Big purple” as it is often referred to, should be a necessary read if due only to its importance in the scheme of behavior analytic theory. Chapters that deal with the role of verbal/symbolic relating as it applies to group membership are useful and interesting.

Opportunities In OBM: Addressing Conflict, Creativity, And Motivation With RFT

Opportunities In OBM: Addressing Conflict, Creativity, And Motivation With RFT

By Angela J. Cathey, M.A.

(Guest Author post to, original post Sept 8th, 2016)

Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) is booming and poised to grow exponentially. There are several fairly recent advancements in the behavior analysis of symbolic thought (RFT; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, Roche, 2001) and technology (e.g., Natural Language Processing, NLP and Machine Learning, ML; Nadkarni, Ohno-Machado, & Chapman, 2011) that can help improve the reach of behavior analysts in OBM. 

Relational Frame Theory

Relational Frame Theory (RFT; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001) describes, among other things, how language consists of stimuli hooked in relation to ‘external’, and ‘internal’ stimuli. These relations demonstrate known properties and characteristics based on the way stimuli are related and number of times they are related. Humans, under many circumstances, demonstrate a tendency to become more heavily influenced by contingencies hooked to their verbal/symbolic context (Hayes, 1989) than their external environment. For example, given “rules” about what to expect in novel situations humans will often become insensitive to detecting solutions that do not fit the rule provided.

Understanding the influence of verbal relating allows us to understand and influence a variety of more complex behaviors within OBM contexts (Hayes, Bunting, Herbst, Bond, & Barnes-Holmes, 2006; Roche, Barnes-Holmes, Stewart, & O’Hora, 2002; Stewart, Barnes-Holmes, Bond, & Hayes, 2006). These patterns of relating to inner experience are evident in external behaviors like verbal behavior (e.g., ‘languaging’).

The Role of Natural Language Processing (NLP)

Recent research from functional contextual behavior analysts has recognized the utility of tracking relations in verbal behavior (Atkins & Styles, 2016; Collins, Chawla, Hsu, Grow, Otto, & Marlatt, 2009). However, most of this has not utilized Natural Language Processing (NLP; not to be confused with Neurolinguistic Programming). NLP refers to entire bodies of well-developed research and technologies developed in the fields of business over the last thirty years. NLP has long been used to gain knowledge in business settings as a method of examining customer relations (CRM) and tracking of other key performance indicators. This and other areas of research have long since demonstrated the utility of tracking verbal relating in prediction of behavior. These technologies have been under-recognized and utilized within the field of psychology as they were expensive and required special technological skill to apply. This is changing as companies like my own, Enso Contextual Behavioral Innovations, take on the task of shaping natural language processing to the needs of behavior analysts in a variety of settings.

What can RFT and NLP provide to behavior analysts in OBM?

Verbal relating is ever present in our world and research on RFT and therapies that have been built from it provide guidance for behavioral interventions that may be used to influence behavior. Detection of verbal relations (e.g., in writing, email, verbal conversational content, Facebook posts, etc.) using NLP can provide insight to behavior analysts about the contingencies controlling behavior that they may not otherwise be able to observe directly. This knowledge can then be used to intervene or to track the effect of other OBM interventions in verbal relations. As many businesses are accustomed to the use of NLP to understand customer relations they are generally accepting of such technologies. Here I will discuss the application of these two technologies to the OBM environment in regard to conflict, creativity, and motivation. 

Verbal relating and conflict

Industrial/organizational research has consistently supported the importance of psychological safety (Edmondson, 1999) in supporting communication patterns that promote productivity, creativity, and even employee mental health. Psychological safety is thought to arise from establishing patterns of communication and behavior in the organizational environment that promote open and safe engagement with difficult issues. The examination of verbal relating through a RFT perspective can assist the behavioral OBM specialist in assessing the psychological safety of an OBM environment and providing interventions that promote adaptive communication.

Alignment in Verbal Relating

Verbal behavior between two or more individuals that becomes more similar linguistically (e.g., in tone or meaning) or realigns quickly after misalignment has been known to predict better relational outcomes (Dewulf, Gray, Putnam, Lewicki, Aarts, Bouwen, & Woerkum, 2009; Drake & Donohue, 1996; Richardson, Taylor, Snook, & Bennell, 2014). RFT conceptualizations of social behavior and group identification (e.g., deictic, hierarchical, and coordination/distinction framing) fit behavioral interventions and speak to creating collaborative environments (Quinones, Hayes, & Hayes, 2000). NLP research also indicates that these patterns are detectable and relate to meaningful outcomes (Wasson, 2016). OBM specialists can utilize this knowledge and intervene based on the specific relations noted to promote productive communication patterns.

Awareness in Self and Other Relating

Awareness of contingencies that drive self-or-other behavior supports more effective communication behaviors. This kind of awareness can be detected in verbal relating as well (Atkins & Styles, 2016; Collins, et al. 2009). Natural language processing research has also addressed measuring these processes (Pennebaker, Mehl, & Neiderhoffer, 2003). This knowledge together with basic RFT can be used to shape interventions that promote adaptive self and other awareness in the OBM environment.

Flexibility in Self and Other Relating

Flexibility in goal approach and group identification has been indicated as important to social and self-related outcomes (English & Chen, 2011; Lei, Waller, Hagen, & Kaplan, 2016; Luan, Rico, Xie, Zhang, 2016; Kashdan, 2010; Moran, 2015). This can also be detected in verbal behavior using NLP (Atkins & Styles 2016; Rentscher, Rohrbaugh, Shoham, & Mehl, 2013). The RFT informed OBM specialist utilize this information to shape interventions.


Creativity in problem solving and in general in OBM contexts can be a significant asset to businesses. This area too can be a difficult to measure and influence without the consideration of verbal relating. Creativity can be viewed as recombining ideas in new ways and noticing new ways of seeing the old. Awareness, as described above, is a component of creativity as well as flexibility in verbal behavior (e.g., metaphorical; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, Roche, 2001) and even comedic strategy. NLP can also detect these types of verbal relations (Shutova, 2010).


Motivation can also be a challenge that costs significant resources or results in significant gains in the modern work environment. Behavior analysts (Skinner, 1986) have long since recognized issues that lead to poor motivation. RFT speaks to the importance of values and social identification in motivation (Foody, Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, & Luciano, 2013), and NLP can again track this identification with sources of motivation and adaptive flexibility in these relations (Atkins & Styles, 2016).

Thus, OBM stands to gain significant knowledge and reach through the integration of RFT to practice and NLP as a method of tracking interventions. Though these technologies may initially appear intimidating, the use of an RFT consultant and use of a behaviorally informed NLP specialist can help take your OBM interventions to a new levels of effectiveness.  For more information on the integration of RFT with other behavioral theory see Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, & Cullinan (2000).


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Angela Cathey, MA

Angela Cathey, MA

Founder, Partner, Consultant, Data Scientist

Angela is experienced in leading and coordinating the operations of research and intervention teams. She has a master’s in Clinical Psychology from the University of Houston – Clear Lake. She has specialty training in measurement, intervention, People Analytics, natural language processing, and data science. Angela was the entrepreneurial lead in the National Science Foundation i-Corps customer validation program for Enso’s key products. She has a background in innovative technology problem solving, technology development, and resulting market-ready product development.

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