Nathan Azrin (1930-2013)

photo of Nathan AzrinNathan Azrin was born on November 26, 1930, in Boston, where he grew up and received all his formal education. At Boston University he earned his BA (cum laude) in 1951 and his MA in 1952. He stayed on at Boston University, collaborating with Odgen Lindsley on research involving cooperation between children (Azrin & Lindsley, 1956). This study "led to a strengthening of the notion that behaviorism was a useful approach to solving social problems;" so "after completing almost all of the doctoral requirements, Azrin's desire for even more emphasis on the behavioral approach led him to transfer in 1953 to Harvard University to study under B.F. Skinner who was beginning to extrapolate his behaviorist approach to human problems" (APA, 1976, pp. 72-73). Azrin completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1955. He then spent two postdoctoral years as a research psychologist, first at the Institute of Living working with Karl Pribram, and later studying human factors in fatigue with the US Army Ordinance. In 1958 he became Director of the Department of Treatment Development at the Anna Mental Health and Development Center in Anna, Illinois. At about the same time he became affiliated with Southern Illinois University, first as a lecturer (1958-1966) in the Psychology Department, and later as a professor at the Rehabilitation Institute (1966-1980). Since 1980 Azrin had been a Professor of Psychology at Nova Southeastern University, where he also served as Clinical Director from 1981 to 1986.

Over the years Azrin has served on the editorial board of 15 academic and applied journals. Notably, he was the Executive Editor of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (1963-1966) and was a founder of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. He has also served on the Board of Directors (1966-1989) and was vice-president (1989-1992) for the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. He was the President of Division 25 of the American Psychological Association (1967-1970), the Association for Behavior Analysis (1977), the Midwestern Psychological Association (1977), and the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Sciences. Azrin has also been the recipient of a number of awards, including American Psychological Association's Distinguished Contributions of Applications in Psychology (1975), the American Psychological Society's First Annual Award for Scientific Applications of Psychology (1993), and the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy's Lifetime Achievement Award (1997).

Azrin's academic career has included many major contributions to both basic and applied research. For example, an early publication (Azrin & Holz, 1966), summarizing his years of research on behavior controlled by aversive stimuli and punishment, was "seminal and continues to be cited" (Brennan, 1997, p. 30.) His work in applied psychology is perhaps even more noteworthy. He has been responsible for the following impressive list of influential and empirically validated treatment packages:

Azrin was also instrumental in developing a "very influential" token economy program in a ward of over 40 psychiatric patients (Ayllon & Azrin, 1965; 1968). The studies conducted in that token economy "stand out as significant from an historical standpoint" (Kazdin, 1977, p. 86). Patients earned special metal tokens for performing a variety of jobs on and off the ward, as well as for self-care activities. They could exchange their tokens for privileges that included such things as choice of living arrangements, special activities on and off the ward, social interaction with staff, and items at a commissary (e.g., candy and cigarettes). This procedure was effective in maintaining the patients' adaptive behaviors as long as the token economy remained in effect, regardless of their individual traits (e.g., age, IQ, diagnosis, and length of hospitalization).

Main Reference Source: Brennan (1997)