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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Brief History of Applied Behavior Analysis

The field of behavior analysis has quite a short history relatively speaking. There have been many events that have occurred adding to the development and movement of the field of applied behavior analysis. There were some primary individuals involved in carving the path for ABA. There were a number of publications released that provided further awareness of the field of ABA. There were many events that led to the current state of this realm of science.

Below you will see a brief summary of the history of applied behavior analysis.

  • 1917 – Jacob Robert Kantor receives his Ph.D. He was known for his contribution to psychology, namely that he developed an approach known as Interbehaviorism.
  • 1924 – Kantor publishes “principles of psychology” the first of twenty books that he will publish on psychology, language, history, and culture over the next 60 years

  • 1929 – B.F. (Burrhus Frederic) Skinner enrolls at Harvard to study psychology.
  • 1932 – Skinner describes an operant conditioning chamber.
  • 1938 – Fred Keller accepts a faculty position at Columbia university where he and Nat Schoenfeld team up to create an exceptional program in behavior analysis at both the undergraduate and graduate levels
  • 1938 – Skinner publishes “behavior of organisms

  • 1943 – The discovery of the behavioral concept of shaping
  • 1944 – William Estes and Skinner monograph on punishment
  • 1945 – Skinner publishes “On the operational analysis of psychological terms
  • 1947 – Skinner delivers the William James Lectures at Harvard on the topic of verbal behavior
  • 1947 – Keller Breland and Marian Breland (later Bailey) begin a school for animal trainers that evolves into Animal Behavior Enterprises of Hot Springs Arkansas, the first behaviorally based (on positive reinforcement) “animals-as-performers” business.
  • 1948 – Skinner publishes Walden Two

  • 1948 – First Conference on the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, held at Indiana University
  • 1949 – Paul Fuller publishes the first demonstration of operant conditioning with a person who is developmentally delayed (“Operant Conditioning of a Human Vegetative Organism,” published in the American Journal of Psychology)
  • 1950 – Charles Bohris Ferster joins Skinner in the Harvard pigeon lab
  • 1950 – William James publish the first textbook with a behavior-analytic focus, Principles of Psychology

  • 1956 – Nathan Azrin publishes his first experiment involving punishment
  • 1957 – Skinner publishes “Verbal Behavior

  • 1958 – The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior is founded
  • 1958 – Noam Chomsky publishes his review of Skinner’s “Verbal Behavior“
  • 1958 – Joseph Brady joins the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
  • 1959 – Joseph Brady sets up program to train monkeys for space flight
  • 1960 – Murray Sidman publishes “Tactics of Scientific Research”

  • 1960 – Dick Malott founds Behaviordelia
  • 1961 – James G. Holland and B. F. Skinner publish “The Analysis of Behavior

  • 1961 – Charles Ferster (Skinner’s colleague/co-author at Harvard) moved to the Indiana University School of Medicine where he was the first to use Errorless Learning to teach children with autism how to speak
  • 1961 – Frances Horowitz moves to the University of Kansas, where she soon is invited to preside over an emerging program in human development
  • 1962 – Arizona State University’s psychology department begins its reign as “Fort Skinner in the Desert”
  • 1962 – The Journal of Mathematics, the first journal devoted to applying behavior analysis, begins publication
  • 1963 – The Experimental Analysis of Behavior Group holds inaugural meeting in London
  • 1963 – Jack Michael publishes “Laboratory Studies in Operant Behavior

  • 1964 – Juniper Gardens Children’s Project begins in Kansas City
  • 1964 – Division 25 of APA established as Division for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
  • 1965 – Ted Ayllon & Nate Azrin of Anna State Hospital describe 1st token economy
  • 1965 – Ellen P. Reese of Mount Holyoke College creates an influential series of classroom films on both basic and applied behavior analysis
  • 1965 – Donald M. Baer recruited to University of Kansas
  • 1966 – Donald S. Blough & Uber and Weiss describe the first use of digital computers to control experiments related to behavior analysis.
  • 1966 – Werner Honig edits first comprehensive review of operant research
  • 1967 – Twin Oaks is founded in Louisa, Virginia by Kathleen Kincaid and based on Skinner’s “Walden Two”
  • 1968 – Baer, Wolf, & Risley publish “Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis
  • 1968 – Skinner awarded the National Medal of Science
  • 1968 – Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is founded
  • 1968 – Lovaas began the UCLA Young Autism Project. He expanded upon Ferster’s work by recommending Errorless Learning (or as he called it “Discrete Trial Training”) 40 hours per week
  • 1969 – Doctoral program in behavior analysis is inaugurated at the University of Florida
  • 1970 – University of North Carolina at Greensboro begins to offer doctoral training in behavior analysis
  • 1970 – Richard Herrnstein publishes “On the Law of Effect”
  • 1970 – Stephanie Stolz becomes Chief of the Small Grants Section, NIMH
  • 1971 – Skinner publishes “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”

  • 1971 – Jack Michael of Western Michigan University receives the American Psychological Foundation’s Distinguished Contributions to Education in Psychology award
  • 1972 – Willard Day creates the journal, “Behaviorism“
  • 1972 – David Watson and Roland Tharp publish Self-Directed Behavior: Self Modification for Personal Adjustment

  • 1973 – Comunidad de los Horcones experimental community established outside Hermosillo, Mexico
  • 1974 – Azrin and Foxx publish Toilet Training in Less Than a Day, based on behavioral principles and destined to be an international best seller.

  • 1974 – Midwestern Association for Behavior Analysis (MABA) is founded
  • 1975 – Mexican Journal of Behavior Analysis begins publication
  • 1975 – MABA incorporates
  • 1976 – The Behavior Analysis Doctoral Program at West Virginia University is inaugurated
  • 1977 – Daniel Tortora publishes “Help! This Animal is Driving Me Crazy”

  • 1977 – Aubrey C. Daniels begins Journal of Organizational Behavior Management
  • 1977 – Stokes & Baer publish programming generality of treatment interventions article
  • 1978 – 1st Harvard Symposium on Reinforcement Schedules as Discriminative Stimuli
  • 1978 – The journal Behavorists for Social Action begins
  • 1978 – Aubrey Daniels starts his company devoted to applying behavior analysis in the workplace, Aubrey Daniels & Associates
  • 1978 – The Behavior Analyst begins publication
  • 1978 – School Applications of Learning Theory, a journal started by Robert P. Hawkins, becomes Education and Treatment of Children (ETC).
  • 1978 – Thomas Gilbert Publishes Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance

  • 1980 – Midwestern Association for Behavior Analysis officially becomes Association for Behavior Analysis
  • 1981 – The Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies is founded by Robert Epstein
  • 1981 – John Staddon establishes “Behaviour Analysis Letters“
  • 1982 – The Analysis of Verbal Behavior begins publication
  • 1982 – Iwata, Dorsey, Slifer, Bauman, & Richman publish “Toward a functional analysis of self-injury”
  • 1983 – Japanese Association for Behavior Analysis founded
  • 1985 – Bringing Out the Best in People published Aubrey Daniels

  • 1986 – Charles R. Shuster appointed Director of National Institute for Drug Abuse
  • 1987 – The B.F. Skinner Foundation is established
  • 1987 – The Lovaas 1987 study should also be included in the timeline as it was renowned and later received praise by the Surgeon General in 1999
  • 1991 – Joseph Brady receives APA’s Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology award
  • 1993 – Walden Fellowship holds its first “planners” meeting in New York City
  • 1993 – Nancy Neef elected first woman editor of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis
  • 1994 – 1st Department of Behavior Analysis in US established
  • 1994 – Acta Comportamentalia begins publishing behavior-analytic research in romance languages
  • 1994 – SABA establishes its Distinguished Service to Behavior Analysis Award
  • 1994 – Master’s degree program in behavior analysis established at Oslo and Akershus University
  • 1998 – Behavior Analyst Certification Board established
  • 2000 – The European Journal of Behavior Analysis begins publication
  • 2005 – Revista Brasileira de Análise do Comportamento begins publishing
  • 2008 – The Association for Behavior Analysis begins publishing Behavior Analysis in Practice

For additional information on the creation and development of the field of Applied Behavior Analysis, check out the book, “Applied Behavior Analysis” by Cooper, Heron, & Heward. This book is one of the most popular books in the ABA field and has tons of information on the basics of ABA.

Reference: Aubrey Daniels

Brief History of Applied Behavior Analysis

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services. You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at You can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2020). Brief History of Applied Behavior Analysis. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from