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Science of Behavior & Wellness

by Rochelle Louis September 02, 2018


Science of Behavior & Wellness

Worlds Collide: Science of Behavior & Wellness
Breanne Cogan MSEd., BCBA, LABA

I invested both time and money advancing my education and obtaining my Board Certification in Behavior Analysis (BCBA). Now, here I am a BCBA! When I tell people I am a behavior analyst, most have no idea what that really means but usually think it sounds pretty cool, and it is!

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a relatively new yet booming field and for good reason.

It is “the science in which tactic derived from the principles of behavior are applied systematically to improve socially significant behavior and experimentation is used to identify the variables responsible for behavior change.”(Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, p. 20)

So, as behavior analysts we use science and data to analyze, modify, and change behaviors that are socially significant using behavior change tactics. I have a great full time job working with individuals diagnosed with autism and making an impact on the world in a way that is meaningful to me. However, the science of ABA has much broader applications.

One of my passions outside of my career within the world of autism is overall wellness. I feel strongly about showing others how to change their health based behaviors by motivating and inspiring them to fuel their bodies with real food and move their bodies everyday. My goal is to show people ways to find balance in their lives and live a healthy lifestyle each day, rather than the all too common cycle of YOLO and “damn I need to look skinny next week, can't eat!”.

It is possible to balance a love for donuts with a desire to be your healthiest self and I have found more love and appreciation for my body and all that it does in that balance. I have created a platform to share this through my blog and instagram @bc__wellness.

As I begin to apply my skills and knowledge in a new area, and start my business as a behavioral health/life coach my curiosity around what people think about the science of behavior analysis peaked. So, like a true millennial I decided to take to instagram polls to learn a bit more about what my followers know and believe about behavior analysis.

First, I simply askedwhether or not people had heard of behavior analysis or board certified behavior analysts and here is what people had to say… 68% of those who responded to the poll stated that they had indeed heard of behavior analysis while 32% of respondents said they had not really heard of the science before.

I followed this up with some more specifics about their ideas around the science. I asked,

If you have heard of behavior analysis could you explain the purpose of it or what it means to be a BCBA to another person?37% of those who responded felt that they probably could explain to another person what it means to be a BCBA while the majority (63%) of respondents said they probably could not.

I then asked,If you know its purpose, what do you believe it is for?  


These results were surprising to me, 89% said that they believed ABA was for more than just autism and 11% believe that ABA is used only for autism treatment. Perhaps I was selling the general public short but I expected to see a higher percentage of people who believed ABA was just used with individuals with autism.


Finally,I asked what other uses people were aware of.I provided a 2 multiple choice options, one for those who thought ABA had no other uses aside from autism- ‘none just autism’ or ‘not sure’ for those who said (or assumed) there are other applications but they aren't sure what they are.


Of those of responded to this poll, 25% still felt the only use for ABA was with individuals with autism and 75% weren't really sure what the other applications could be...but they felt there were more uses for the science.

I also included a fill in space for respondents to provide me with  their thoughts about other uses for ABA. Two individuals participated in the fill in portion and stated that ABA can be used for


“interventions for kiddos with aggressive or disruptive behaviors”
“analyzing behaviors and applying what you know can help anyone and anything.”


Until recently, I found myself trapped in this idea that what I did could only benefit individuals with autism. Primarily because this is what the majority of my experience and application had been in thus far. While I find my job to be incredibly rewarding, I also feel that as a behavior analyst I have the power to doso much outside the realm of autism and we are just barely tapping into that.


Notice above I saidsocially significantbehavior. As BCBA’s we don’t just go around collecting data on behaviors for the hell of it or try to change everything about our clients. Rather, we carefully select behaviors that hold the most power and will have the greatest impact on improving the lives of our clients. For the population of individuals on the autism spectrum some of those may be related to communication, social skills, activities of daily living, self advocacy, decreasing challenging unsafe and socially stigmatizing behaviors.

For typically developed adults, some behaviors may be drinking more water, consuming less sugar or processed foods, eating more vegetables, taking medication as prescribed, adherence to wellness plans, doctors recommendations, or fitness programming, and finding ways to get more movement throughout your day. These may seem like pretty simple behaviors but can be really challenging for most people to self monitor and incorporate into their lives in a consistent manner. These behaviors greatly contribute to our overall well being and general health. Engaging in too little of these behaviors can result in things like hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. All of which can result in a lower quality life while living, increase cost of care and ultimately result in earlier death. So if you ask me, I’d say they are pretty socially significant!


Increasing the behaviors listed above can create a sort of waterfall effect of wellness. In ABA we call those behaviors, behavioral cusps.


A behavioral cusp as defined by Rosales-Ruiz and Baer (1997) as “a behavior that has consequences beyond the change itself, some of which may be considered important... what makes a behavior change a cusp is that it exposes the individual's repertoire to new environments, especially new reinforcers and punishers, new contingencies, new responses, new stimulus controls, and new communities of maintaining or destructive contingencies.”(Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, p. 58-59)

As a behavioral health and life coach this means helping clients select and prioritize behaviors that have a broad impact on their overall health and wellness. Choosing behaviors that will provide the client with some sort of reinforcement. That could be in the form of pounds or inches lost, increased strength, improved endurance, decrease in aversive symptoms associated with health concerns, and access to new activities, social circles, and a more balanced life. Creating a systematic plan for shaping and changing behavior over time. And last, but certainly not least- collecting data to demonstrate the effectiveness of these behavior change tactics and monitor progress toward goals as well as maintenance of skills.


There is no shortage of information on how to lead a healthier lifestyle. We know that we should eat more vegetables, real wholesome foods and less processed garbage. There is also no debating that we need to move our bodies each day. Maintaining a healthy body weight in theory is quite simple. There is no magic fix or need to cut whole food groups from your diet. There is no be all and end all workout that you must do. The trick is to find what works for you. Not for the next 30 days or until you go on that trip, but for your life! It is not a matter of not knowing which behaviors to engage in to get us there. Rather, it is knowing which behaviors to prioritize, how to systematically and realistically alter them over time to create new habits. It is about accountability, self management, and tracking of those behaviors that helps us to choose the smarter meal option more times than not, to put down our fork when we are satisfied not stuffed, and to get our heart rate up and move our incredible bodies each day.


So, did you move your body yet today?



Cooper, J. O, Heron, T. E, & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Rosales-Ruiz, J., & Baer,D.M. (1997). Behavioral cusps: A developmental and pragmatic concept for behavior analysis.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 533-544.

About the Author:

Breanne Cogan MSEd., BCBA, LABA has 7 years of experience working with children with developmental disabilities and autism in residential, school, home, and community settings. She began her career at the New England Center for Children where she obtained as Masters Degree in Special Education and a Certification in behavior analysis before taking the BCBA exam. She spent 1.5 years in Waltham Public School and is now working as a BCBA/Clinical Supervisor for Specialized Autism Consultants where she does in home work.  Breanne has a passion for helping others move their body each day and incorporate healthier habits into their daily lives. It is this passion that has driven her to begin her business, BC Wellness as a means to bring behavior analysis into the world of health and wellness.



Rochelle Louis
Rochelle Louis

2 Responses

Brenda McCain
Brenda McCain

September 03, 2018

Great article. Thank you for posting. As a lifelong healthcare provider, I have always been committed to “walk my talk” in encouraging wellness promotion. You are exemplary in that respect.

Kevin Cogan
Kevin Cogan

September 03, 2018

Your an amazing person Breanne!!

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