If toilet training your toddler was a breeze, and if you ever used “time out’’ for attitude adjustment, you have Nathan H. Azrin to thank.
The world-renowned behavioral psychologist, a Nova Southeastern University professor emeritus, wrote the multi-million-selling Toilet Training in Less Than a Day, with Richard M. Foxx in 1974, and is credited with proposing “time out’’ as an alternative to spanking.
Trained by Harvard University’s legendary behavioral scientist B. F. Skinner, Azrin spent 30 years at NSU’s Center for Psychological Studies, which in announcing his death from cancer complications on March 29, noted that his “hundreds of research publications have been cited by other researchers at an unprecedented rate.”
He earned popular, as well as academic, acclaim, appearing on William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line,” “The Phil Donahue Show” and “The Mike Douglas Show.”
The major news magazines, as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Psychology Today published his essays.
A champion of positive reinforcement as a behavior-modificaton technique — whether it involved child development or partner dancing — Azrin, of Fort Lauderdale, was the founding editor of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and founding president of the Florida Association for Behavior Analysis.
Born in Boston on Nov. 26, 1930, Azrin was 82 when he died at North Broward Hospital in Deerfield Beach. Son David, a New York lawyer, said he’d been undergoing chemotherapy for bladder cancer since 2007.
After earning degrees from Boston University and Harvard, Azrin became a U.S. Army research psychologist. He was recruited by NSU in 1980 from the Anna Mental Health and Development Center in Anna, Ill., where he’d headed the Department of Treatment Development since 1958.
He served six years as NSU’s clinical director early in his tenure, and retired in 2010. Along the way, he developed the “job club’’ concept, which has been adopted worldwide to help the unemployed. Azrin developed many of his methods at Anna with another notable in the field, Teodoro Ayllon, now an Atlanta psychologist.
Among them: “token economy,’’ used mainly with people in institutions. The tokens are symbolic rewards, like checkmarks or points, given for a desired behavior, which can be exchanged for “backup reinforcers’’ like a privilege.
Azrin also rejected negative labelling, reasoning that youngsters would live up — or down — to labels applied to them.
In a statement, Karen S. Grosby, Dean of the Center for Psychological Studies, highlighted Azrin’s work “with the severely mentally-handicapped, the so-called ‘untrainables,’ upon which a large part of his legacy rests... Azrin’s pioneering work has included ‘job club’ reemployment procedures...during corporate layoffs.’’
She said that his methods work with “a wide array of...problematic, stigmatizing and maladaptive behaviors” such as bedwetting, stuttering, nail biting, obsessive hair pulling, Tourette syndrome, bulimia and teen substance abuse.
In an online tribute, Alan Kazdin√, director of Yale Uiversity’s Parenting Center, recalled how Azrin, a colleague since the 1970s, could “cut through all sorts of highfalutin theory and move to creative and practical hypotheses about interventions’’ that have stood the test of time.