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Behav Anal Pract. 2017 Feb 27;10(2):97-106. doi: 10.1007/s40617-016-0161-9. eCollection 2017 Jun.

Normative Emotional Responses to Behavior Analysis Jargon or How Not to Use Words to Win Friends and Influence People.

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Department of Psychology, Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61761 USA.
Elon University, Elon, NC USA.
University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS USA.
Queens College, Flushing, NY USA.
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, IA USA.
Better Life Behavioral Services of Central Florida, Leesburg, FL USA.


It has been suggested that non-experts regard the jargon of behavior analysis as abrasive, harsh, and unpleasant. If this is true, excessive reliance on jargon could interfere with the dissemination of effective services. To address this often discussed but rarely studied issue, we consulted a large, public domain list of English words that have been rated by members of the general public for the emotional reactions they evoke. Selected words that behavior analysts use as technical terms were compared to selected words that are commonly used to discuss general science, general clinical work, and behavioral assessment. There was a tendency for behavior analysis terms to register as more unpleasant than other kinds of professional terms and also as more unpleasant than English words generally. We suggest possible reasons for this finding, discuss its relevance to the challenge of deciding how to communicate with consumers who do not yet understand or value behavior analysis, and advocate for systematic research to guide the marketing of behavior analysis.


Behavior analysis terminology; Dissemination; Emotion; Jargon; Motivating operations

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