Professor of Psychology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
For more than 20 years, Brian A. Iwata has focused his research on the assessment and treatment of self-injurious behavior (SIB). SIB affects approximately 15 percent of people diagnosed with mental retardation or autism. Individuals with SIB may cause extensive injury to themselves through biting, hitting or scratching and often require sedation or mechanical restraint. Iwata has been instrumental in changing the traditional focus of SIB assessment on these effects to a focus on the causes.
The general goals of Iwata’s research have been to identify the environmental causes of SIB, to develop experimental and clinical methods for isolating these causes on an individual basis and to use this information to develop treatment procedures based on principles of learning. In developing the assessment procedures that grew out of this pioneering research, Iwata coined the term “functional analysis methodology.” This methodology has become the standard throughout the field in both clinical research and in practice. Due to Iwata’s research, federal law since 1997 has required that any student whose educational placement is jeopardized due to a behavior disorder must be given a functional behavioral assessment.
“What Dr. Iwata has accomplished is almost revolutionary in psychological diagnosis,” says Marc N. Branch, chair of the UF psychology department.
Initially supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Iwata’s facility, the Florida Center on Self-Injury, is currently funded by the state. Iwata’s center supports about a half dozen doctoral students and accommodates an additional 15 undergraduate students per term as part of its psychology laboratory work. In addition to the work on SIB, they conduct research on general learning and behavior disorders and on methods for enhancing the performance of students with disabilities.
Iwata has received numerous awards for his revolutionary research. He has also served as chief editor of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (the most prestigious research journal in his field), been president of several national and international organizations, and been chair of both NIH and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant review committees.