|This photograph is described in Wiki Commons as "The Love Meter! An American invention, called the 'Amorograph', with which it can be determined whether the love of two humans is genuine. The picture shows the inventor of the 'Amorographen' during an experiment." Permission to use the picture is granted in Wiki Commons. It is not an example of applied behavior analysis but I present it for your amusement.|
Given the acceptance by the Surgeon General of the therapeutic value of applied behavior analysis for autistics (see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999), one might believe that the first human applications of the science primarily involved people with disabilities. A query in Google Scholar retrieves a different answer.
In some of the first animal studies of its kind in the 1930s and 1940s, B.F. Skinner had described operant conditioning as a change in the probability of future occurrences of behavior by adding or removing reinforcers or punishers as consequences of behavior. Human operant studies were later reported in the mid 1950s (see Bijou, 1955 and Lindsley, O.R., 1956, abstract), but the existing periodicals were not eager to publish behavioral reports (see Azrin, 1987, p. 480). So in 1958 the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB) began publishing with an exclusive focus on animal and human operant conditioning experiments.Buskist (1982) reviewed the first 23 years of studies in JEAB looking for examples of human operant behavior. He found that "the most common type of subject has been the normal adult, typically undergraduate students, figuring in 95 reports, while the normal child has been used in 35 studies. Institutionalized adults and retarded children have been employed in 18 studies each (p. 140)."
Normal adults are better able to consent to experimentation than disabled adults. Some early behaviorists did experiment with institutionalized disabled adults, possibly and specifically without their consent, but Buskist's claim that healthy adults were the primary subject of choice in the earlier days of the science supports an argument that substantial number of early behaviorists supplemented their projects with high standards of ethics. (For a lengthy review of consent during behavioral interventions, see the post in this blog, Behavioral Ethics: The Consent of the Subject of Behavior Research and Therapy.)
P.S. See Reward and Consent (2014) for my post, "Neurodiversity (Wikipedia), autism, and neurologically typical and atypical behavior norms."
Azrin, N. H. (1987). Behavior in the beginning. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 48, 480-481. Retrieved August 14, 2011 from U.S. National Institutes of Health's PubMed Central database Web site: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1338781/pdf/jeabehav00037-0139.pdf
Buskist, W. F. (1982) The analysis of human operant behavior: A brief census of the literature: 1958-1981 [Electronic version]. The Behavior Analyst, 5, 137-141. Retrieved August 14, 2011 from U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine PubMed Central database Web site: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2742046/pdf/behavan00071-0033.pdf
Bijou, S. W., (1955) A systematic approach to an experimental analysis of young children [Electronic version]. Child Development, 26, 3, 161-168. Retrieved August 14, 2011 from EBSCOhost database Web site: http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=4f151b9b-d030-453b-b70c-d79306cf2c4c%40sessionmgr112&vid=2&hid=123
Lindlsey, O. R. (1956) Operant conditioning methods applied to research in chronic schizophrenia [Electronic version of the abstract]. Psychiatric Research Reports, 5, 118-139. Retrieved August 14, 2011 from American Psychological Association PsychNETdatabase Web site: http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1957-06429-001
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General—Executive Summary. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, 1999, Chapter Three [Electronic version] Retrieved August 14, 2011 from the U.S. Surgeon General's Web site: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/chapter3/sec6.html