Systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and other animals

Skinner's model was based on the premise that reinforcement is used for the desired actions or responses while punishment was used to stop the responses of the undesired actions that are not. This theory proved that humans or animals will repeat any action that leads to a positive outcome, and avoiding any action that leads to a negative outcome. The experiment with the pigeons showed that a positive outcome leads to learned behavior since the pigeon learned to peck the disc in return for the reward of food.

In the early years of cognitive psychology, behaviorist critics held that the empiricism it pursued was incompatible with the concept of internal mental states. Cognitive neuroscience, however, continues to gather evidence of direct correlations between physiological brain activity and putative mental states, endorsing the basis for cognitive psychology.

ABA has also been particularly well-established in the area of developmental disabilities since the 1960s, but it was not until the late 1980s that individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders were beginning to grow so rapidly and groundbreaking research was being published that parent advocacy groups started demanding for services throughout the 1990s, which encouraged the formation of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, a credentialing program that certifies professionally trained behavior analysts on the national level to deliver such services. Nevertheless, the certification is applicable to all human services related to the rather broad field of behavior analysis (other than the treatment for autism), and the ABAI currently has 14 accredited MA and Ph.D. programs for comprehensive study in that field.

Incentive-based contingency management (CM) is the standard of care for adults with substance-use disorders; it has also been shown to be highly effective for other addictions (i.e., obesity and gambling). Although it does not directly address the underlying causes of behavior, incentive-based CM is highly behavior analytic as it targets the function of the client's motivational behavior by relying on a preference assessment, which is an assessment procedure that allows the individual to select the preferred reinforcer (in this case, the monetary value of the voucher, or the use of other incentives, such as prizes). Another evidence-based CM intervention for substance abuse is that uses FBAs and counterconditioning techniques—such as behavioral skills training and relapse prevention—to model and reinforce healthier lifestyle choices which promote self-management of abstinence from drugs, alcohol, or cigarette smoking during high-risk exposure when engaging with family members, friends, and co-workers.

Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is a behavior therapy discipline that often overlaps considerably with the clinical behavior analysis subfield of ABA, but differs in that it initially incorporates cognitive restructuring and emotional regulation to alter a person's cognition and emotions.