2017: Thomas Szabo

Florida Institute of Technology; Commit & Act International

In December 2016, Tom Szabo, Ph.D., BCBA-D, worked with Commit & Act, an international NGO, to conduct a multiple probe across participants study in Sierra Leone aimed at decreasing intimate partner gender-based violence in couples from three different villages. The independent variable was DARE to Connect, a behavioral flexibility training that is modeled on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The dependent variable was within-session microaggression and between session reports of violence and the use of replacement behaviors that were corroborated by the partners in separate, independent reports. Prior to the intervention, we conducted a within-session analogue precursor functional analysis. After finding that within-session microaggression was related to a particular kind of negative reinforcement, couples were exposed to the DARE protocol, in which they learned to manipulate their environments and use skills for interacting in the presence of unchangeable variables that in the past had occasioned and reinforced violent behavior. Results showed that DARE led to decreasing levels of microaggression in session and aggression between sessions. Also, couples increasingly used replacement behaviors that were functionally equivalent to those behaviors we had targeted for deceleration. The paper that resulted from this intervention is now under review in JABA.


Most importantly, the results from the 2016 study have maintained at four separate follow-up sessions. One of the factors that appears to be maintaining the newly learned responses is that family members, neighbors, and tribal elders see the changes in the couples’ behavior and are asking for their help. Each of the couples we served has been asked by other couples for help at turning around the conditions that produce their unwanted violent behavior.


Dr. Szabo and his team are currently manualizing the DARE to Connect intervention for use by the pilot couples. The team is giving the couples who worked with them previously the resources to be able to teach other couples in ways that are compatible with Sierra Leonean culture. Over the next year, they will train the original nine couples to deliver these strategies to other couples in their own and surrounding villages and evaluate this as a train-the-trainer dissemination model. They view this as the first step in spreading behavior analytic practices in Sierra Leone to curb intimate partner gender-based violence.


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