Atoms and Behavior

Within the field of ABA, we view everything through a behavioral frame of thought. As I sat thinking about sub-atomic particles and the periodic table, it began to speak to me behaviorally. The periodic table is generally ordered by Atomic Number (number of Protons found in the nucleus of an atom) and their Valence (the Electron’s orbit around an atom’s nucleus). This symbiosis between protons and electrons, and what they mean to the element can be looked at behaviorally …

Protons, Neutrons, & People

Protons & Neutrons comprise the Nucleus of an atom. Protons are Positively charged and Neutrons have no charge. The nucleus is the core of the atom, and is the weight of the atom. People are generally considered “good”, as they are typically positive or neutral in their daily demeanor and habits.

The number of protons in an atom give you it’s atomic number, which identifies what the element is. Similiarly, the amount of positivity people see inside of you helps them identify you as what element you are, which affects how people interact with you.

Figure 1. A simple illustration of an atom and its components. (Image from

Electrons & Environment

Electrons orbit around the nucleus of an atom, surrounding it with a negative charge, that balances out the positive charge of the nucleus. Our environment is comprised of stressors, which most would deem to be “negativity” surrounding them.

The amount a negativity surrounding an atom tells you what kinds of elements it can attract and attach to. Much like how the company you keep tells people what element (type of people) you attract and attach yourself to. Going back to protons, when people see you as a certain type of element, it tells them if they want to be attached to you.

People see the negativity around you and it affects if they are attracted to you and if they want to be attached to you, once they determine what element you are inside it affects if they want to interact with you.

What is Stress?

Essentially, stress is anything in our life that is not exactly what we want or what we want to do. The negativity around us is an atomic representation of all the daily stress we deal with, constantly and consistently.

  • Work – even your dream job has aspects that stress you out. Athletes have to go to practice and worry about being a brand, CEO’s have to make sure all their divisions are running smoothly, and doctors Have to worry about malpractice lawsuits, insurance companies that pay them and one they pay, and STUDENT LOANS!!!
  • Family – kids, spouses, if you’re a cheater your side relationship, parents, cousins, siblings, family functions (e.g., Christmas, birthdays, graduations), remembering birthdays, buying the right gifts, etc.
  • Fun Activities – even fun stuff is stressful. Going to a game or concert? Awesome entertainment and memories. However, you have to worry about and pay for parking and food, deal with traffic, getting out of the lot, sitting in a crowded section, waiting in lines for food, bathrooms, entering, and leaving.
  • Eating – eating can have stress like, …
    • Are you maintaining your diet (e.g., healthiness, keto, vegan options, WW points)?
    • What are you going to eat? It’s a common relationship joke that women have a hard time deciding what to eat, and I have seen many relationships have real hardcore arguments over this topic.
    • Cooking vs Going out to eat? The debate over finances vs convenience.

Periodic Table Periods (Horizontal Rows)

The horizontal row increases in atomic number, one number at a time. Meaning the further along you go into a Period, the more Protons it has. However, elements that are in the same Period have chemical properties that are not all that similar. The further you go from left to right, the more the likely you are to go from losing electrons (negativity) to gaining electrons. This losing and gaining creates a bond with another element, attaching you to their negativity.

Another way to say this … the more likely you are to drop your negativity, the more somebody will try to pick up your negativity and attach to you. Also, the more protons and positivity you have, the easier it is for you to handle the negativity of others.

Figure 2. A simple illustration of the periodic table, broken down by families and periods. (Image sourced from Pinterest, no author given)

Periodic Table Families (Vertical Columns)

The Families of the Periodic Table have similar properties.
These similarities are based on the electron configuration of the elements, which is the number of electrons in each orbit of a particular atom. These electron configurations show that there are some similarities among each group of elements in terms of their valence electrons.

Valence electrons are the electrons orbiting furthest away from the nucleus. These are the electrons that are shared, lost, or gained by the elements. They are so far away from the nucleus that there is not enough strength to hold them to their atom.

Behaviorally, you cannot unlearn a behavior, you can just learn it doesn’t lead to the desired outcome (reinforcer) anymore, and learn a new behavior to replace it with. The longer the learning history the stronger the behaviors … the greater and stronger the negativity. The further away you get from the negativity, the weaker the negativity, and the easier it is to lose. The greater the distance between yourself (positivity and neutral self) and your stressors (negativity), the it becomes easier it is to lose and attach to something better.

Figure 3. A simple illustration of an atom, highlighting how far away Valence Electrons are from the nucleus, in comparisons to other electrons. (Image from


Atoms are a great representation of behavior basics. Weak negativity (maladaptive behavior) is easier to lose than strong negativity, and the amount of charge/negativity we have around us indicates what we attract and are attracted to. Meanwhile, our core (neutral and positive behavior) identifies you to the outside world.