My dream career is to be a military psychologist and deal with a variety of issues ranging from PTSD to truant soldiers. How can ABA be used in the military context? Let’s use bullying as an example. Say one soldier is a slower runner than the rest of his platoon, despite trying his hardest. This means that the platoon always loses competitions that involve a running race, and certain members of his platoon are not happy about this and have taken to name-calling and shoving.
The military would typically deal with bullying behavior with punishment, which involves decreasing the rate of behavior by giving it a negative consequence. A common form of punishment in the military is response cost, where the consequence of performing a behavior will cost you something. For example, after calling the slower soldier names, perhaps the bullies have to do push ups, so it costs them energy, or perhaps they have to polish cutlery, so it costs them time (and their sanity). Bullying in schools is usually punished with a public or private apology or the bully performing a favourable act for their victim (Pearce & Thompson, 1998). Punishment is known to be an effective method for reducing unwanted behavior in the military, but are there other ways?
Another method of reducing unwanted behavior that could work is differential reinforcement of alternate behavior. This involves encouraging behavior that is incompatible with the behavior you’re trying to discourage, and therefore removing the other behavior by the process of extinction – removing the rewarding consequences of the behavior. In this case, the rewarding consequence may be the venting of anger or frustration, or the approval of others in the group who are also frustrated. Encouraging the bullies when they are nice to the slower soldier after losing a competition, and perhaps even giving a reward can combat the behavior.
I have given just one example of how behavior can be changed to suit the military, but as they are moulding soldiers, they change many behaviors in many different ways. ABA can be used to increase, decrease, or maintain behaviours, whilst still leaving the person with their own internal thoughts and opinions. Due to this, some aspects of ABA may be applicable to the military setting, but others will not as the military aims to foster a certain type of thinking.
Pearce, J. B., & Thompson, A. E. (1998). Practical approaches to reduce the impact of bullying. Archives of disease in childhood, 79, 528-531.