Anyone that has ever watched a movie or television show about a serial killer is probably familiar with behavioral analysis. The discipline was championed by the FBI as a means to help identify and capture some of the nation’s most insidious criminals.

Established in 1985, the Behavioral Science Unit, now the Behavioral Analysis Unit, uses case history and research to explore, qualify, and quantify the psychology of criminal perpetrators. Although still criticized to this day for a lack of empirical evidence to its veracity, the FBI’s use of behavioral analysis now constitutes five separate divisions devoted to the nation’s most critical violent crimes.

However, novel in its approach in solving crime, the FBI and law enforcement is not the inception of behavioral analysis. I’m sure it’s no surprise that behavioral analysis begins in psychology and the research and observations of Ivan Pavlov.

“Hannibal Lecter, B.F. Skinner, and a dog walk into a bar…”

Unlike the FBI’s work, using psychology to simply identify criminal behavior, and subsequently the criminals themselves, Pavlov’s research was aimed at identifying AND influencing behavior—that of a dog that could be “conditioned” to salivate at the sound of a bell by introducing the bell during the natural act of salivation at the anticipation of being fed and then, over time, only the bell being necessary to get the dog to salivate.

Pavlov’s work led to subsequent research to not just influence, but change behavior, and culminated in the 1940s-50s with B.F. Skinner, known as the father of behavior analysis. Skinner believed that the best way to understand the complexity of human behavior was to figure out the relationship between the causes of behavior and the consequences of that behavior. His discovery of many concepts in behavioral analysis are still used today, in everything from training our pets, teaching our children, caring for brain injuries, addiction, and dementia, as well as managing organizational behavior.

Accidents and injuries, instances of nonconformance with a policy or standards—really, failures of any kind—can all contribute to a need for an organization to change. As author Tash Baksh writes, “I’ve come to recognize that there are many contributing factors to an incident. The key is the corrective action taken…By using a causal analysis tool to prevent incidents, we can avoid unnecessary time and pain points we spend reliving past errors that lead to business emergencies and even life interruptions.”

So check out Tash’s column, “Incidents, Causal Tools and Effective Corrective Action: Behavior Change for the New Year” and everything else we have to offer in this month’s Quality.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!