Diversity and inclusion within ABA

May 25th 2020, George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was murdered whilst being arrested in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This has sparked a conversation that is long over due, and is finally feels long lasting. As a society we have started talking, listening, reading and understanding. It’s surprising that as a field that prides itself on being socially significant and wanting to build a better world and society, that we have fallen short on the amount of literature and investigation around this area. In 2020 a paper was written, preceding the death of George Floyd, but the timing has been perfect.

Defining Racism, Prejudice, Racial Prejudice and Bias

This paper gives an outline of how racism, bias and prejudice develop from a behaviour analytical view. Firstly they define the following:

Racism is “a belief that one’s own racial or ethnic group is superior, or that other such groups represent a threat to one’s cultural identity, racial integrity, or economic well-being”

Prejudice is “a preconceived opinion not based on reason or experience”, including “unreasoned dislike, hostility, or antagonism towards, or discrimination against, a race, sec, or other class of people”

Racial prejudice is a specific form of racism involving socially inappropriate and discriminatory behaviours, including verbal behaviour, directed at members of an ethnic group”.

Bias “is an inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair. Behavioural Analytical definition of implicit cognitive bias “ behaviour that is influenced in an implicit manner by cues that function as an indicator of the social group to which others belong”.

Research Findings

When the author’s discuss how these bias or prejudice views form, they explain this as occurring through processes of contingencies of reinforcement or punishment, motivating operations, stimulus control and verbal processes.

Respondent learning occurs when a neutral stimulus (NS) is paired with an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) and becomes a Conditioned Stimulus (CS).” The example given of a Black person who is accused of committing a horrific murder. If the crime is frightening (the UCS) it can make the Black person (NS) become frightening.

Observation Learning relates to modelling, so for young children to observe racist behaviour from their parents, extended families or friends growing up, can lead to them developing racists beliefs or having racial prejudices and bias.

The example in the paper for stimulus generalisation discusses repeated exposure to negative associations, for example in television shows where police officers, portrayed as brave and heroic are Caucasian characters and criminals, or who dishonest and bad, are BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) characters.

Also they discuss stimulus equivalence. The example in this article is around Father Christmas (person; A), who is nice, friendly, and generous (qualities; B) and typically portrayed as Caucasian (race; C). If people develop a derived relation between these, they can begin to develop racist, or bias views.  Using this idea, researchers have been able to investigate biased views of some populations, by giving them tasks of matching known stimuli to novel stimuli (stimuli being pictures, words or symbols) and assessing if they can develop these derived relations (Drake et al, 2015; Power et al  2017; Barnes-Holmes et al 2010, Kishita et al, 2014; Watt et al, 1991; de Carvalho & de Rose, 2014; McGlinchet & Keenan, 1997).

Panel Discussion:

On Tuesday 7th July 80 people in the field of ABA met via Zoom for the ABA journal club to discuss this paper. This was hosted by Maggie Hoerger, from Bangor University and Thanos Vostanis at Kent University, and the panel consisted of four amazing BAME Behaviour Analysts; Amal Abuliya, Rochelle Gray, Georgiana Koyama and Cynthia Ewers-Cobb. They discussed very openly their experiences of racism and prejudice within the field. These included being asked to change the way they looked, missing opportunities to progress in their career and/or tokenism. They shared their moving stories with a lot of courage and then discussed how we as a field can move forward. In addition to continuing to read and engage in respectful conversation,

What we can all do to make a positive change for BAME Colleagues:

Reflect on your values.

Believe people’s stories and listen.

Give space for conversation.

Call people out and speak out: don’t be a bystander to prejudice, bias or racism.

Ask questions; What did you go through – How can I help?

What can organisations do to promote equality, diversity and equity:

Diversity training -lead and planned by BAME, which could include, how to interact BAME clients, and discuss empathy. Possibly involving role play,

Have a post-interview procedure with staff to ask if racism, bias or prejudice was a reason for them leaving – and change.

Hire and promote on merit. equal access to supervision and development for all staff

Better representation within organisations,

Involvement in policies from BAME employees

If you meet a great tutor who is BAME, invest in that person. If concerned “are they good enough” learn into the feeling about their merit. Move away from your concerns

What can Schools and Universities do promote equality, diversity and equity:

Guest lectures from BAME

Broaden the areas in which ABA courses are offered, for example Birmingham, London, Liverpool, Manchester

Further information:

In addition I recently listened to an episode where Adrienne Bradley joined ABA Inside Track, she spoke about respect from both sides of this issue. Her advice was to show respect and listen and understand. I would recommend you check this out, as it’s a great podcast episode, and for more you can listen to Adrienne’s own podcasts, with her colleagues Dr. Antonio M. Harrison, BCBA-D and Tyanna Moore BCBA, Shades of ABA. https://anchor.fm/shadesofaba

Thanks to Bangor University and Kent University for organising and providing this event. A special thanks to the wonderful panel members, Amal, Rochelle, Georgiana and Cynthia.

Thank you to Georgiana for revising this blog post prior to release.

The following charities and organisations were shared during the talk, please check the following or visit the All Behaviour Consultancy Community page to show your support.

ABA Africa: Page to support the delivery of ABA therapy within Africa and support professionals there.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/219148548816423

Focus West London: A charity delivering a Saturday club provision to children with Autism within London. This uses ABA principles and can help families who may not have the resources to access ABA, access this provision. Georgiana’s team at All Behaviour Consultancy support this.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Focus-West-London-536805579854652/

Website: https://focuswestlondon.wordpress.com/

Local giving page: https://localgiving.org/charity/focuswestlondon/

Junior’s Place of Hope: The only school for Children with Development Delay in Bo, in North Sierra Leone. All Behaviour Consultancy has sponsored one person at the school to obtain their Registered Behaviour Technion (RBT) creditial. She will be the second RBT in Sierra Leone.

Website: https://juniorsplaceofhope.com

Donation page: https://juniorsplaceofhope.com/donate-to-our-cause

Commit and ACT: Located in Bo, Sierra Leone, provides shelters and psychological therapies based on ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy; What is ACT?) to support women who have victims of violent crimes and domestic violence and, to support young boys within gangs to leave.

Website: http://commitandact.com/about-us/

You can learn more about each of the panel members and their companies

All Behaviour Consultancy: https://allbehaviourconsultancy.com/

Head Start: https://www.headstartaba.org/

Amal’s LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amalabuliyah

Piece of Mind Therapies: https://www.pomt.co.uk


Barnes-Holmes, D., Murphy, A., Barnes-Holmes, Y., & Stewart, I. (2010). The implicit relational assessment procedure: Exploring the impact of private versus public contexts and the response latency criterion on pro-White and anti-Black stereotyping among White Irish individuals. The Psychological Record, 60(1), 57–79.

de Carvalho, M. P., & de Rose, J. C. (2014). Understanding racial attitudes through the stimulus equivalence paradigm. The Psychological Record, 64, 527–536.

Dixon, M. R., Zlomke, K. M., & Rehfeldt, R. A. (2006b). Restoring Americans’ nonequivalent frames of terror: An application of relational frame theory. The Behavior Analyst Today, 7, 275–289.

Drake, C. E., Kramer, S., Sain, T., Swiatek, R., Kohn, K., & Murphy, M. (2015). Exploring the reliability and convergent validity of implicit racial evaluations. Behavior and Social Issues, 24, 68–87.

Kishita, N., Muto, T., Ohtsuki, T., & Barnes-Holmes, D. (2014). Measuring the effect of cognitive defusion using the implicit relational assessment procedure: An experimental analysis with a highly socially anxious sample. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 3, 8–15.

Matsuda, K., Garcia, Y., Catagnus, R., & Ackerlund Brandt, J. (2020). Can Behavior Analysis Help us understand and reduce racism? A review of the current literature. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 13, 336-347. http://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-020-00411-4

McGlinchey, A., & Keenan, M. (1997). Stimulus equivalence and social categorization in Northern Ireland. Behavior and Social Issues, 7(2), 113–128. https://doi.org/10.5210/bsi.v7i2.310.

Power, P. M., Harte, C., Barnes-Holmes, D., & Barnes-Holmes, Y. (2017). Exploring racial bias in a country with a recent history of immigration of Black Africans. The Psychological Record, 67, 365– 375.

Watt, A., Keenan, M., Barnes, D., & Cairns, E. (1991). Social categorization and stimulus equivalence. The Psychological Record, 41, 33– 50.

Further Listening

ABA Inside Tack Episode | Behavioral Observations Episode

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