Behavior analysis once supported a rich tradition of studying aversive control, that is, behavior change through punishment or negative reinforcement. A variety of factors have shifted our contemporary emphasis -- almost exclusively -- to the study of positive reinforcement. This status quo is most easily justified for service delivery (especially with vulnerable populations) in which we are concerned about excessive reliance on aversive control and the side effects that this can cause. I will argue, however, that our collective disregard for the study of aversive control has left us in an untenable position, both scientifically and practically. Where science is concerned, the past three decades have seen important advances in the understanding of positive reinforcement for which no parallel insights exist regarding aversive control. Moreover, scientists outside of our field have revealed robust aversive-specific phenomena that behavior analysts have largely ignored. Our silence about these effects allows them to be explained within, or even seen as evidence for, nonbehavioristic theoretical frameworks. Where practice is concerned, a lack of new behavior analytic data on aversive control may suggest that we have nothing to say on the topic. As a consequence, perhaps, policy makers and others seeking consensus on issues like corporal punishment may not consult our field for guidance. Moreover, because aversive control is ubiquitous in the everyday world, it is difficult to see how a thorough analysis of socially important behavior can proceed without a proper understanding of aversive control. For instance, emerging notions about aversive control may generate counterintuitive treatment predictions that cannot be reached by thinking about positive reinforcement alone. In summary, the world out there encompasses, and is fascinated by, aversive control, and we should be motivated to reanimate our tradition of studying it.
|Dr. Thomas S. Critchfield graduated from West Virginia University, where he received his M.A. (1984, under the direction of Dr. Ernest Vargas) and his Ph.D. (1989, under the direction of Dr. Michael Perone). At Auburn University, he coordinated the doctoral program in Experimental Analysis of Behavior and served as Undergraduate Program Coordinator. He currently is Professor of Psychology at Illinois State University. Dr. Critchfield completed terms on the ABA Executive Council as Student Representative (1986-1989) and Experimental Representative (2002-2005), and has held positions with the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, with Division 25 of the American Psychological Association, and on the editorial boards of a number of behavior analysis journals. His scholarly interests focus on basic operant processes, on verbal behavior, and on scientific translation within behavior analysis.|