Thought Leaders 018 - Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz - Part 2

This month on Operant Innovations - Thought Leaders, we are back with Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz as he answers the questions "Where do you see the field going?" and/or "Where would he like to see the field go?" as he dives into The Constructional Approach and asks us to continue to better practices and our field!


For more on The Constructional Approach:

Glenn, S.S. Retrospective on Goldiamond’s “Toward a Constructional Approach to Social Problems”. Behav. Soc. Iss. 11, 202–203 (2002).

Goldiamond, I. Toward a Constructional Approach to Social Problems: Ethical and Constitutional Issues Raised by Applied Behavior Analysis. Behav. Soc. Iss. 11, 108–197 (2002).


If you have questions, feedback, or suggestions, please contact us at


Shauna Costello (00:01):

You're listening to Operant Innovations. A podcast brought to you by ABA Technologies. This month on Thought Leaders, we're back with Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz as he answers the questions: Where do you see the field going and/or where would he like to see the field go? That brings me into the next question of either where do you see the field going and/or where would you like to see the field go?

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (00:39):

I think that the field right now, it seems to me, that we're at a crossroad. It was inevitable that we would grow. It was inevitable that we were going to produce a lot of practitioners, but it was also clear that I don't think that we were ready for it. Right now, I think that we are paying because the quality of services is going down. The effects that we used to report, they are no longer there. Partly because we're taking more children and I'm not sure that the way that we're training our students right now is sufficient for them to really do the task. That I don't like, and I see it and unfortunately there is a lot of money to be made there, so those are reinforcers. It is really hard to fight those contingencies and to turn it around. It's going to take some time. I don't like it, but I think that it's fortunate now that people are complaining. People will have horror stories, which is not good for all of us in the field. I know that there are a lot of people doing really good things, but this certification is getting us in parts we shouldn't be. I'm hopeful and it's going to take time, but maybe ABAI now can look into the leadership that will be something different. That worries me. I don't think that the students... I would like for all the behavior analyst students to be trained like I was trained. We need more freedom. I understand that we have to specialize more and not everybody is looking for the type of education that I got because it is a great accomplishment to say, "This is our profession. This is a way for me to make a living," and you can make a living now, but the rest is gone. Don Baer used to tell me when we used to talk about this a long time ago. He used to tell me, "Hey, Jesus. There are several types of behavior analysts. Some of them, this is just a job like any other job. Others, they try to save the world with behavior analysis and others, just like me, they just try to understand how behavior works." Those are the motivations that we need to find a way for all of that to collide. To me, conceptually, the way that I would like the field to go, of course it will not be a surprise, to be more constructional. I think that we're paying too much attention to bad behavior and it's not needed. Sometimes I would say really, a lot of what you need... What is the simplest way to do it? It is the simplest way to be in behavior change. I'm not talking about research. I can talk about research later on, but I'm talking more about practice. I think that if we are able to set up a goal, an ambition or goal, if we are able to say, "This is what I want to be," and I was able to also identify a beginning point, then we can use all shaping, chaining, fading, and just build the behavior that we want and that satisfies the contingency environment. And by doing that, then all behavior becomes absolute. It is not in this case. That is so good. So basically, we'll be like MapQuest. MapQuest only asks you two questions: Where do you want to go and where are you now? That would be the minimum thing, because what we're doing now, especially the question "Where are you now?" We don't ask enough. We have manuals like the Ables, the neat book and all of that and we go and they say, "Okay, what is the first thing that we need to teach here or this one?" So you're trying to put that into the children without really paying attention to prerequisites. I think that a lot of problems could be solved with the constructional approach basically through shaping. I would like to see more of that because right now I think that this bad behavior, people think that just by decreasing the bad behavior or getting rid of the bad behavior, you solve the problem. I think that we have already planned field data that tells us, "No. If you take something out, you have to put something in there". Like Skinner would say, "Correct behavior is not what is left after you chip away all the errors." It doesn't work like that. You still have to build something. For that, you have to be purposeful. I think that will change the perception of people about behavior analysis. If we switch from focusing too much on bad behavior to the constructional approach. It's difficult right now because bad behavior is what people pay you for. This is what you get grants for. You have to cure something. So bad behavior becomes an entity. So now we talk about children, "Oh, the child is non-compliant," and we make non-compliance an entity that we have to get rid of, which is bad because non-compliance is really not a behavior. It's not something you can do. [Laughing] Instead of that, when people are asking, "Okay. Sure, non-compliant.. What will the child be doing?" Imagine the perfect child, if everything was fine, what would he be doing? What environment would they require? If you ask those questions, then your solutions are going to be very different. They are going to seem more constructional in the sense that you'll see more shaping more paying attention to the prerequisites. I think that you will see less corrections and blocking and prompting the children and all of that. I would like for that to be basically going back to the past. The problem here is that, just like it was in the sixties, a lot of people didn't know how to do it. They knew how to do it the other way. We need more examples and more avenues and more models of how to be constructional and how it’s efficient and it's effective and all of that. We need to show it and to have programs that teach that more directly, so that is going to take time.

Shauna Costello (10:17):

And do you think too, it's kind of how the system as a whole is set up right now and not just necessarily the behavior analysis system, but the bigger systems that we're working within.

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (10:32):


Shauna Costello (10:32):

This could even potentially be more of a cultural...

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (10:37):

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Shauna Costello (10:41):

If you want to call it societal, cultural processes. That this is exactly... We have to try to fit within the process to get paid for what we're doing, but then working against what we're actually trying to do sometimes.

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (10:59):


Shauna Costello (10:59):

I know that because of the program that you've helped found and build that UNT is focusing on a lot of these other things like public policy. These other aspects. Is that something that you would like to see more behavior analysts go into?

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (11:21):

Yeah. Definitely.

Shauna Costello (11:21):

Getting out and going into that stuff? Is that one way?

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (11:24):

Yes and analyzing contingencies and all of that. Yes. I would like that. Yeah. I think that the people, to some extent, are doing that even though some of the approaches, the way that they are doing it, they don't quite fit with me, but nonetheless, they are doing it. We need more models. If you were constructional... Right now, a person could lose a behavior from the point of view of the constructional approach. People, right now, see bad behavior. A person with a constructional orientation will see, "Oh, reinforcers. I can use that as a reinforcement to build the behavior that I want'" and all of that. This takes time and one has to be patient, you know?

Shauna Costello (12:36):

Would you be okay with me reaching back out to you and getting a list of resources to include in this? So that I can provide the resources to the listeners of this podcast so that they can be like, "Oh, this constructional approach," because it's not really that well-known of a thing, actually.

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (12:57):

No, It's not. What is very interesting is that I can argue that that is the operant way. When Skinner came, reinforcement was there. Of course, he systematized it more and all of that. The idea that wasn't there before Skinner, was this idea of you being able to shape behavior bit by bit by bit by bit. That wasn't there. It was all trial and error. Catania would talk about trial and error kind of things. Skinner started with response differentiation, then that became shaping in 1948, then in the fifties, all of that became program instruction, which was all constructional. Program instruction, which to me was applied behavioral analysis of the fifties and of course, it ran into the sixties too. To me, what Goldiamond is he took the mold of the program instruction and formalized this constructional and pathological, and actually conceptually moved it up by making this dichotomy between pathological approaches and constructional approaches. By focusing on what you want, you can build a lot, but that doesn't sell very well. [Laughing]

Shauna Costello (14:56):

I think we have a problem with that as a field in general.

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (15:02):

Yes. Partly because of the prerequisite of something. Just different training, but to me, that's what I would like. I'm trying to think, "What can I do to turn this around?" Even if I don't see it, I will just make a contribution for the future behavior analysts. There is a lot of literature, so those resources are going to be all articles and just to show really how almost everybody in this instance were constructional. Including Tom Gilbert, because program instruction was constructional, like Goldiamond would tell you. It was not how to correct spelling. It was more about how to teach you correct spelling. How to shape it up. It makes a lot of difference, but it's very subtle. A lot of people say they think that just because they use shaping or changing that they are using the constructional approach. The constructional approach also goes along with the functional analysis, because if you hear Goldiamond, he's always talking about the critical reinforcers. Finding out the critical reinforcers and then doing it. That's very important. To give them that because otherwise you're just paying people. An example that I give in animal training, a lot of dogs have this problem that they jump on people when they come to greet them. They jump and jump and mug them and do all kinds of things. They are doing this because they want physical contact and that's one way for them to get physical contact. Their reinforcer is the physical contact, but usually people don't engineer that critical reinforcement to shape the dog's behavior. What they do is train an alternative behavior and give them food. Basically what I’m saying is they are paying the dog not to jump on people, but they are not really looking at the needs of the dog. Yes, they are using positive reinforcement, but that's not the reinforcer. That's not the critical reinforcer. The idea is, "Okay, how can we engineer these pettings as a reinforcer?" Basically the alternative will be to teach them that somebody comes at the dog and the dog comes and sits in front of the person and that's the way to ask for the reinforcer. Then the person goes down and pet him. Those are two solutions. The second one goes more into the critical reinforcement than the first one and I'm afraid that we do a lot of that. We're basically not capitalizing on more critical or natural reinforcers and we're depending too much on food and these reinforcers.

Shauna Costello (18:56):

The intrinsic reinforcers.

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (18:56):


Shauna Costello (18:56):

Yeah. I noticed when I started reading some more of Israel Goldiamond that the easiest place for me to actually practice some of this was with my dog, because there were some things that were just very small things. I started realizing that, "Oh, that's really like... Okay." It's kind of like I'm learning again, which is sometimes hard to find when you're not actively in an academic program or seeking something out like that. It kind of feels like I'm training myself in something. I know this stuff, but it's just kind of tweaking how we approach it because we're taught about it and it's not like it's some foreign language. You're just semi tweaking how you're doing it. It's been a really interesting experience because I'll even catch myself when I'm working with my dog on certain things. I'll be like, "No, Shauna. No. Come on, we need a new way. New way, come on." Not how you used to do it.

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (20:29):

A lot of what it needs to be is to have some of those models and also to give the freedom to behavior analysts. There are many reinforcers and a lot of them are really subtle, but it doesn't matter if they are subtle. The only thing that matters is that they are critical for your subjects. I often tell my students that the constructional approach is the future of behavior analysis. Of course, all of them laugh. They all laugh. They don't believe me. I say, "I'm telling you to learn these things because this is going to be the future of behavioral analysis." I'm not sure if I'm going to see it, but I'm very sure that one day we'll end up there.

Shauna Costello (21:33):

I think I'm going to have to agree with you. I'm not going to lie. I think that behavior analysis has had a hard time kind of selling itself as well. I think, honestly, the constructional approach is a really good way to sell behavior analysis. It really is. It's kind of the opposite...

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (22:00):

Totally the opposite. Yes.

Shauna Costello (22:00):

...of what behavior analysis has been portrayed to be out there. It's kind of like the opposite. I'm not saying it is the opposite, but that perception...

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (22:13):

The perception. Yes.

Shauna Costello (22:13):

Yeah. I could see that. Is there any other thing or any other way that you would like to see the field or students in the field go?

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (22:29):

I think that we need to pay a lot of attention to neuroscience. To me experimental analysis of behavior has to include neuroscience. That's the way, otherwise we'll become obsolete. We have to create those new technologies. We already sort of missed the boat in the sixties by not jumping into physiology, but that's understandable, but we have to find a way to continue doing EAB. Studying through surgeons and ergonomics, all of that. We have to also be in the context of neuroscience because we need to belong to that.

Shauna Costello (23:26):

That's kind of one thing too, that I've been trying to push myself to do as well is to not necessarily stick with just behavior analytic research, readings, this and that. To really start expanding what I'm reading, what I'm studying, because we each have our own interests and things like that, of course, but that is a huge field for us to start getting into as well. Do you have anything else that you would like to cover today? We've covered a lot.

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (24:01):

Yes. Yes. Just to close the neuroscience thing... What we need is behavior analytic neuroscience. Behavioral neuroscience. We need to really, totally conjoin with behavioral analysis neuroscience.

Shauna Costello (24:23):

I like that a lot.

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (24:27):


Shauna Costello (24:27):

All right.

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (24:27):

Yeah, we covered a lot so...

Shauna Costello (24:32):

Thank you so much. I had such an amazing time listening. I know for people who are listening, they're like, "Wow, you didn't even say anything the whole time." No. I'm sitting here listening and responding and if anybody could see my facial expressions this whole time... [Laughing].

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (24:51):

[Laughing] Yeah. That was really good. That kept me going.

Shauna Costello (24:55):

It's one of those things where I don't like to interrupt you because I'm having an amazing time listening to these stories. This was only a very small fraction of the experiences that you've had so, thank you so much for talking with me today.

Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (25:13):

No, thank you for inviting me. Yeah. We'll be in touch.

Shauna Costello (25:20):

Thank you for listening to this episode of Thought Leaders and as always, if you have questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us at


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