Applied Behavior Analysis and Social Marketing: An Integration for Environmental Preservation


  • E. Scott Geller

    Corresponding author
    1. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
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      E. SCOTT GELLER is Professor of Psychology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He received his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University. He is coauthor of Preserving the Environment: New Strategies for Behavior Change. His research interests concern resource conservation, safety belt use, occupational health and safety, and prevention of alcohol-impaired driving.

Department of Psychology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0436


Basic principles of applied behavior analysis and social marketing are reviewed with reference to the development of action plans to protect the environment. Behavior-change procedures that have targeted environmental preservation are categorized as antecedent interventions (including education, prompting, modeling, goal setting and commitment, and engineering and design strategies) or consequence procedures (i.e., reinforcement and punishment). Although past behavior analysis research has demonstrated environmental benefits from applying certain behavior-change interventions, those studies were small-scale and short-lived. This paper offers an integrative model of applied behavior analysis and social marketing as a potential approach to large-scale and long-term intervention for environmental protection. The market analysis and segmentation phases of social marketing, for example, allow for the specialization of behavior-change strategies for particular target groups. This integration requires increased collaboration between behavior analysts and environmental psychologists who study the correlation of individuals' environmental concern and action with their attitudinal, demographic, and personality characteristics. A plea is made to replace armchair theorizing with interdisciplinary and intervention-focused environmental research.