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Psychology students are taught about the differences between basic and applied research. A popular research methods textbook, for instance, states that “the major goal of basic research is to acquire general information about a phenomenon, with little emphasis placed on applications to real-world examples of the phenomenon” (Bordens & Abbott, 2002, p. 19). Another text asserts that basic research “establishes a reservoir of data, theoretical explanations, and concepts that can be tapped by the applied researcher” (Kantowitz, Roediger, & Elmes, 1997, p. 17).
Ideally, of course, students are taught that there is not always a clear boundary between basic and applied research, and that many psychological studies have characteristics of both. For instance, a study may examine the applicability of a behavioral principle or theory in a clinical population, and this research can be of real value to both basic and applied researchers. A good study of this type can assist applied researchers in developing more effective treatment procedures, while at the same time it can give basic researchers information about a behavioral principle's generality, its limitations, and possibly about ways to refine, extend, or improve it.
JEAB is known mainly for publishing basic research on the behavior of individual organisms. Yet from its beginnings, this journal has published occasional articles that bridge the gap between basic and applied research. In its first few years, JEAB published reports on the operant control of stuttering (Flanagan, Goldiamond, & Azrin, 1958), on the behavior of psychiatric patients under basic reinforcement schedules (e.g., Ayllon & Azrin, 1964; Ayllon & Haughton, 1962; Hutchinson & Azrin, 1961), and on “The psychiatric nurse as a behavioral engineer” (Ayllon & Michael, 1959). In later years, there have been articles on teaching impulsive children to tolerate delays (Schweitzer & Sulzer-Azaroff, 1988), on the development of equivalence relations between visual stimuli and drugs (DeGrandpre, Bickel, & Higgins, 1992), on the transfer of arousal functions in spider-fearful individuals (Smyth, Barnes-Holmes, & Forsyth, 2006), and on how a summed-exponential model of interresponse time distributions can be used to analyze the durations of wars (Nevin, 2008). These are just a few examples of JEAB articles that have demonstrated the application of basic behavioral principles beyond the operant laboratory.
This special issue on translational research, therefore, does not venture into completely new territory for JEAB, although it does reflect a recent trend in the behavioral sciences toward increased interest in research that extends basic principles of behavior beyond the laboratory. It seems very fitting that JEAB, as one of the primary journals that publishes original research on basic behavioral principles, should continue to feature research that demonstrates the extension of these principles to nonlaboratory situations.
This special issue has two main purposes. The first is to showcase some of the excellent translational work that is currently being conducted in many different areas. The articles in this issue cover a wide assortment of topics and behavioral principles, ranging from an application of the matching law to the speech patterns of delinquent boys to an fMRI study on risk perception in pathological gamblers. There are indeed many different areas in which modern behavioral principles and concepts can be fruitfully applied.
The second purpose of this special issue is to communicate our intention to publish more high-quality translational research as a regular part of future issues of JEAB. As an important step toward achieving this goal, I am pleased to announce that F. Charles (Bud) Mace has accepted the position of JEAB's first Editor for Translational Research. Researchers who conduct translational research are invited and encouraged to submit their manuscripts to this journal. Bud's extensive experience in the area of translational research will ensure that manuscripts on translational research receive competent and appropriate evaluation and feedback.
This special issue, and our plans to include more translational research in the future issues, therefore represent the continuation of a long tradition for JEAB. In the five decades of JEAB's existence, basic research has produced a wealth of new knowledge about the behavior of individual organisms. The recent growth in the quantity and variety of translational research is a sign that the time is right for tapping into this reservoir of data, theoretical explanations, and concepts, and demonstrating their importance outside the laboratory.