Being an essential factor in identifying the behavioural patterns of patients, defining the issues that can be described as aberrations in social interaction and locating the methods of intervention, social validity, in fact, is rather hard to define, as “something of social importance would have to be judged by someone as having value to society” (Wolf, 1978, p. 203).
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At this point, the element of subjectivity factors in, which is inadmissible for behavioural research.
Nevertheless, being the key criterion for determining instances of deviation from the acceptable behavioral standards, social validity is still essential for selecting target behavior and designing an intervention strategy, as it helps the patient locate the boundaries for the behaviour types, which can be considered the boundaries of a socially accepted behaviour.
Herein the paradox of social validity lies; though it is hardly definable in the broad sense of the phenomenon, it, nevertheless, allows a therapist to compare the behaviour of the patient with the appropriate one and, based on the differences thereof, provide the treatment that the patient needs (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).
However, a closer look at the principle of social validity will reveal that it, in fact, helps add the so-called “social relevance” (Wolf, 1978, p. 207) to the actions of the patients, i.e., make their actions more predictable from the perspective of the society.
In other words, the incorporation of the social validity predisposes the incorporation of certain predictability to the actions of the patients, thus, facilitating their integration into the society.
Wolf (1978), however, views the issue from a different perspective, stating that the strategy, which involves the concept of social validity, claiming that these are the patients, who gain a deeper insight onto how the society works and, therefore, define the behavioural patterns that are generally considered acceptable: “They set up simulated counselling situations that contained various nonverbal components” (Wolf, 1978, p. 207).
Indeed, the specified phenomenon allows for developing the skills for not only memorizing the behavioural patterns that are socially acceptable, but also identifying the ones that are expected in a specific social scenario and following them accordingly.
Working on a subconscious level and making the patient process the information that comes from both verbal and, most importantly, nonverbal elements of a conversation, the phenomenon in question can be considered essential to developing basic communication skills in the patient.
Social validity, thus, can and must be used as a crucial component of an intervention. First and most obvious, social validity assists in determining the key treatment goals (Kavale, Spaulding, & Beam, 2009).
Hence, with the adoption of the social validity principle, a therapist will be capable of defining the key treatment stages and produce an adequate evaluation of the progress made in the course of the intervention.
In addition, social validity enhances the appropriateness soft eh treatment procedures, contextualizing them and making them applicable to a specific case and the individual needs of a specific patient (Wolf, 1978).
Finally, the introduction of the social validity concept into the treatment process contributes to the improvement of the key treatment effects, i.e., the promotion of successful communication for the patient (Wolf, 1978).
Although the nature of social validity is very hard to identify, the specified concept allows locating efficient methods of treatment.
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Moreover, social validity develops responses towards specific expectations in the patient in terms of social behaviour. A crucial part of the treatment process, social validity is to be included in any intervention (Wolf, 1978).
Cooper, J., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis. 2nd ed. London, UK: Pearson.
Kavale, K., Spaulding, L., & Beam, A. (2009). A time to define: Making the specific learning disability definition prescribe. Learning Disability Quarterly, 32(4), 39–48.
Wolf, M. M. (1978). Social validity: The case for subjective measurement or how applied behavior analysis is finding its heart. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2(11), 203–214.