Evolutionary Theory of Behavior Dynamics | PCOM DO Student
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Evolutionary Theory of Behavior Dynamics 
Bryan Klapes, PhD, MA (DO ’24)

June 27, 2022

Bryan Klapes, MA, PhD (DO ’24)

Bryan Klapes, MA, PhD (DO ’24) graduated from Emory University in 2013 with a bachelor of science degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology. He earned a master of arts in clinical psychology in 2016, and a PhD in psychology in 2020 from Emory University prior to matriculating into PCOM Georgia’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine program.

In lay terms, what are you studying?

Resurgence is a phenomenon wherein a behavior that has been put on extinction (i.e., the performance of that behavior no longer is beneficial) returns, even though there is no reinstatement of the benefit for its performance. This behavioral pattern usually occurs because the benefit for a competing behavior has been reduced or entirely taken away. Resurgence has numerous clinical applications, including the reemergence of problem behaviors after successful behavior therapy (e.g., functional communication training to stop aggressive behaviors in individuals with severe intellectual disability; Briggs et al., 2018) and relapse after recovery from substance use (e.g., Podlesnik et al., 2006).

In graduate school, I worked extensively on a computational theory that simulated operant behavior, or behavior that is in response to consequences obtained from the environment. This theory was developed by graduate school mentor, Dr. Jack J. McDowell, which he entitled the “Evolutionary Theory of Behavior Dynamics” (ETBD; McDowell, 2004). My collaborators at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Drs. John Michael Falligant and Louis Hagopian) and I successfully simulated resurgence with this theory (Falligant et al., 2022). We showed that artificial organisms animated by the ETBD showed resurgence behavior that matched that of live organisms in similar experimental designs.

This year, I was invited to give a conference paper at the Society for Quantitative Analyses of Behavior (SQAB) annual meeting. Receiving this invitation has been an aspirational goal of mine for years, as information presented at SQAB meetings have shaped my program of research since I first attended during my undergraduate training in 2013. My presentation was entitled “Modeling and Quantifying Resurgence in an Evolutionary Theory of Behavior Dynamics,” co-authored with Drs. Falligant and Hagopian. In addition to providing the audience with a summary and brief review of the ETBD, I showed that the data we used in our 2022 study was well-described by the preeminent quantitative model of resurgence (“Resurgence as Choice“; Shahan and Craig, 2017).

The presentation was very well received; I was able to field many thoughtful questions with the remainder of my allocated timeslot after I had finished going through my slides. SQAB presenters are usually offered the opportunity to publish their work in a special issue of the society’s affiliated journal, Behavioural Processes; I will be writing a version of this presentation with my co-authors for submission in that special issue over the upcoming months.

What prompted you to pursue research?

My training as a doctoral candidate in psychology provided me with a thorough understanding of the biological, psychological and social determinants of human behavior, as well as the research training to design, implement and disseminate scientific research.

During medical school, I have continued to develop great relationships with my collaborators and colleagues from graduate school, finishing and extending projects I started when I was at Emory. However, I have also made a concerted effort to expand my research activities to those more directly related to medicine, specifically in the field of psychiatry.

For example, I presented at the 2021 annual convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis International on loss aversion in psychiatric patient populations and was selected to co-author a book chapter on the use of virtual reality in clinical psychiatry. I intend to contribute to the fields of psychological and medical science throughout my medical training, with an end goal of securing a position as a faculty member in academic medicine upon completion.

What experience do you have conducting research?

During my time as a medical student at PCOM Georgia, I have published two peer-reviewed articles (Cox et al., 2021; Falligant et al., 2022), presented four papers at conferences and served as a reviewer for two articles submitted for peer-review (The Psychological Record and The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior).

Prior to medical school, I published nine articles in peer-reviewed journals and gave eleven presentations (four paper presentation and seven poster presentations) at regional, national and international conferences.

What were your responsibilities in the research project?

I was the primary author of the presentation and will be the primary author of the forthcoming article to be published in the special issue of Behavioural Processes. I helped design the study plan (published in Falligant et al., 2022), performed the data analyses by fitting the model to our data, generated the presentation slides and delivered the presentation at the SQAB 2022 annual meeting.

What is the broader impact of your research?

Generally, the clinical goal of the ETBD is to help clinicians be more efficient in their treatment testing and delivery. That is, clinicians can build artificial organisms that match the behavior of their patients (e.g., Morris and McDowell, 2021) and simulate an array of prospective behavioral interventions on these organisms. Then, the clinicians can analyze which of these interventions resulted in the best outcome and design an in-vivo treatment that most closely matches the best ETBD setup. Presumably, this approach will cut down on the time, effort, and resources spent by clinicians in titrating the treatment plans on their actual patients, resulting in more of their resources being focused on the most effective treatment being implemented in practice.

Personally, I hope to meld this current project with my main area of expertise: the impact of punishment on operant behavior (Klapes et al., 2018). In verifying that artificial organisms animated by the ETBD exhibit resurgence, I can now run many simulations wherein both reinforcers and punishers are part of the experimental design to determine the extent to which the organisms exhibit resurgence under these contingencies. We can then build new quantitative models that incorporate both reinforcement and punishment into the estimation of responses, instead of just reinforcers (as seen in “Resurgence as Choice“). Ultimately, I intend to leverage these models to better understand the differences, or lack thereof, in the processing of aversive stimuli by various psychiatric clinical populations (cf., my 2021 ABAI presentation mentioned above).

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