„These are exciting times, for teachers and students alike"

Dr. Hanna Steinunn Steingrímsdóttir is an Associate Professor in Applied Behavior Analysis at RU's Psychology Department


„We examine the functional relation between behaviour and environment, and in that way try to improve the individuals quality of life“ says Dr. Hanna Steinunn Steingrímsdóttir, Associate Professor in Applied Behavior Analysis at Reykjavík University‘s Department of Psychology. „That is the short description!“

In 2019 a new masters programme in Applied Behavior Analysis was launched within the Department of Psychology, making the department the first of its kind in Iceland to offer graduate education in the subject.

Dr. Steingrímsdóttir explains that applied behavior analysis is relatively young subject in comparison with others. „Dr. B. F. Skinner, a professor at Harvard University was a pioneer in the field. He conducted numerous important research and discovered specific laws of behaviour.“ Since than the field has grown considerably with numerous experiments published and practical demonstrations being presented each year, expanding our understanding of the relation between behaviour and environment. Today, behaviour analysts are found in many different areas such as within education, the healthcare system, and human resources to name some.


Vital to understand the needs of the individual

„Behavior analysts use empirically supported methods with the goal of increase the quality of life, independence, and autonomy of individuals in cooperation with the individuals themselves or their next of kin when that applies. Or in other words, they apply the science of behavior to improve socially significant behaviors.“

The practitioners need to follow strict ethical codes of conduct just as clinical psychologists. „Behaviour analysts may for example work with people who have difficulty expressing themselves and so it is absolutely vital to understand the individuals needs. Therefore, it is very important that the interventions we use is socially acceptable and of importance for the individual him or herself. Furthermore, the intervention needs to be empirically supported and appropriate for the individual.“

An internationally verified series of courses

Courses in Applied Behaviour Analysis have been taught at RU‘s Department of Psychology as a part of the MSc course in Clinical Psychology. This course series has been verified by the Behaviour Analyst Certification Board (BACB) since the beginning. „There is an increasing demand for behavior analysts and therefore it was an important step to provide a verified course sequences at a graduate level. “

Until now, students in the field have had to seek the masters level education in Applied Behaviour Analysis in other countries. Hanna Steinunn herself moved to Norway in 2007 after completing her undergraduate psychology degree. Her main research interest are related to the establishment of stimulus control and stimulus equivalence in particular. Within that area she has studied variables affecting stimulus control in individuals with neurocognitive disorders. „We have for example explored the possibility of aiding people who so wish to remember the names of their closest family members and friends.“ The application of Behaviour Analytic principles with the elderly in general is also of particular interest to Hanna Steinunn. Research shows that even simple changes in the environment can lead to very positive outcome for the older adult.

Important student research

As to the relatively new graduate programme in Applied Behaviour Analysis at Reykjavik University, the goal is simple: to offer students a dynamic research environment. „These are exciting times, for the teachers and students alike. We wish is to empower our master's students by inviting them to participate in ongoing research topics as well as providing them with the opportunity to work on their own research projects if they have special interests. The students are important agents in shaping the future of behavior analysis in Iceland.“