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The Good Behavior Game: A Best Practice Candidate as a Universal Behavioral Vaccine.

Abstract: A "behavioral vaccine" provides an inoculation against morbidity or mortality, impacting physical, mental, or behavior disorders. A simple behavioral strategy based on applied behavior analysis called the Good Behavior Game (GBG), which reinforces inhibition in a group context of elementary school, has substantial previous research to consider its use as a behavioral vaccine. Approximately 20 independent replications of the GBG across different grade levels, different types of students, different settings, and some with long-term follow-up show strong, consistent impact on impulsive, disruptive behaviors of children and teens as well as reductions in substance use or serious antisocial behaviors. The GBG, named as a "best practice" for the prevention of substance abuse or violent behavior by a number of federal agencies, is is the only practice implemented by individual teachers that is documented to have long-term effects. Presently, the GBG is only used in a small number of settings. However, near universal use of the GBG, in major political jurisdictions during the elementary years, could reduce the incidence of substance use, antisocial behavior, and other adverse developmental or social consequences with very positive cost-effectiveness ratios.

Relevance to PAXIS’ Work: This paper is the result of Dr. Embry and Dr. Sheppard Kellam meeting in the summer of 1999 at a special meeting called by the Secretary of Education, the Attorney General, and the Surgeon General to facilitate the nation’s response to the tragedy of the Columbine Shootings. Dr. Embry was at the meeting because he was running the largest youth-violence prevention study funded by the Centers for Disease Control, and Dr. Kellam was running the longitudinal study on the developmental impact of the Good Behavior Game. The documented impact of the Game over time answered a major strategic prevention question, as the Game did not have any curriculum or content focus on violence, drugs, smoking, drug use, early sexual beavior, suicide, depression and college entry but affected all those things from just one year of exposure to the Game in first-grade.  Both PeaceBuilders and GBG came from the same body of research.  PAXIS began direct replications and large-scale implementations of the Good Behavior Game, which are discussed in the paper. The novel concept of a repeated behavior having lifetime effects was reviewed and given a conceptual name, “a behavioral vaccine.”