What is Applied behavior analysis History features concepts measurement

Applied behavior analysis (ABA), also called behavior engineering , is a scientific discipline concerned with applying empirical techniques based on learning principles to change socially significant behavior . It is the applied form of behavior analysis;

The other two forms are radical behaviorism (or philosophy of science ) and experimental analysis of behavior (or basic experimental research ).

The name “applied behavior analysis” has replaced behavior modification because the latter approach suggested trying to change behavior without clarifying the relevant interactions between the behavior and the environment. In contrast, ABA attempts to change behavior by first evaluating the functional relationship between a specific behavior and the environment.

Additionally, the approach often seeks to develop socially acceptable alternatives to aberrational behaviors.

ABA has been very successful in public school systems for children who exhibit behavior that interferes with their access to the curriculum. More specifically, ABA is applied as a special education service on a student’s IEP. Examples include such things as intensive early behavioral interventions for children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), brain injury rehabilitation , research on the principles that influence criminal behavior as well as HIV prevention , conservation of natural resources, education, gerontology, health and exercise , industrial safety, language acquisition, littering, proceduresmedical , parenting , psychotherapy , seat belt use, severe mental disorders , sports, substance abuse, phobias , pediatric eating disorders , and zoo animal care and handling.


ABA is an applied science dedicated to the development of procedures that will produce observable changes in behavior. It should be distinguished from experimental analysis of behavior, which focuses on basic experimental research, but uses principles developed by such research, notably operant conditioning and classical conditioning .

Behavior analysis takes the view of radical behaviorism , treating covert thoughts, emotions, and other activities as behavior subject to the same rules as overt responses. This represents a shift from methodological behaviorism, which restricted behavior change procedures to behaviors that are self-evident, and was the conceptual basis for behavior modification.

Behavior analysts also emphasize that behavioral science should be a natural science rather than a social science. As such, behavior analysts focus on the observable relationship of behavior to the environment, including antecedents and consequences, without resorting to “hypothetical constructions.”


The beginnings of ABA go back to the study by Teodoro Ayllon and Jack Michael “The psychiatric nurse as behavioral engineer” (1959) that they presented to the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB) as part of their doctoral thesis. at the University of Houston. Ayllon and Michael were training staff and nurses at a mental hospital how to use a token economy based on the principles of operant conditioning with their patients, who were mostly adults with schizophrenia , but some were also retarded children.mental. This paper later served as the basis for the founding of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA), which publishes research on the application of behavior analysis to a wide range of socially relevant behaviors.

A group of University of Washington professors and researchers, including Donald Baer, ​​Sidney W. Bijou, Bill Hopkins, Jay Birnbrauer, Todd Risley, and Montrose Wolf, applied the principles of behavior analysis to coach the developmentally disabled. children, managing the behavior of children and adolescents in juvenile detention centers and organizing employees that require an adequate structure and management in companies, among other situations.

In 1968, Baer, ​​Bijou, Risley, Birnbrauer, Wolf, and James Sherman joined the Department of Human Development and Family Life at the University of Kansas, where they founded the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Notable graduate students from the University of Washington include Robert Wahler, James Sherman, and Ivar Lovaas. Lovaas established the UCLA Young Autism Project while teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has devoted nearly half a century to research and practice directed at autistic children and their families .

In 1965, Lovaas published a series of papers describing his system for coding observed behaviors, described pioneering research into the antecedents and consequences that sustain problem behavior, and built on the error-free learning methods initially devised by Charles Ferster to teach. Nonverbal children to speak.

Lovaas also described how to use social (secondary) reinforcers, teach children to imitate, and what interventions (including electric shocks) can be used to reduce aggression and life-threatening self-harm.

In 1987, Lovaas published the study “Behavioral Treatment and Normal Educational and Intellectual Functioning in Young Autistic Children.” The experimental group in this study received up to 40 hours per week in a 1:1 teaching environment using discrete error-free test (DTT) training.

Treatment is done at home with parents involved in all aspects of treatment, and the curriculum is highly individualized with a strong emphasis on teaching eye contact and language. ABA principles were used to motivate learning and reduce unwanted behaviors.

The result of this study indicated that 47% of the experimental group (9/19) lost their autism diagnosis and described themselves as indistinguishable from their typical adolescent peers. This included going through regular education without assistance, making and keeping friends, and becoming self-sufficient as adults. These gains were maintained as reported in the 1993 study, “Long-Term Outcome for Children With Autism Receiving Early Intensive Behavioral Treatment.”

Lovaas ‘s work became recognized by the United States Surgeon General in 1999, and the results of his research were replicated in university and private settings. The “Lovaas Method” became known as Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI), or DTT, for 30 to 40 hours per week.

Over the years, “behavior analysis” gradually replaced “behavior modification”; that is, by simply trying to alter problem behavior, behavior analysts tried to understand the function of that behavior, what antecedents promote and maintain it, and how it can be replaced by successful behavior.

This analysis is based on a careful initial assessment of the role of a behavior and testing of methods that produce changes in behavior.

While ABA appears to be intrinsically linked to autism intervention, it is used in a wide range of other situations as well. Notable recent areas of research at JABA include autism, classroom instruction with developing learners, pediatric feeding therapy, and substance use disorders.

Other ABA applications include applied animal behavior, consumer behavior analysis, behavioral medicine, behavioral neuroscience , clinical behavior analysis, forensic behavior analysis, job safety and performance enhancement, behavioral support positive throughout the school, and systematic desensitization for phobias.


The 1968 article by Baer, ​​Wolf, and Risley is still used as the standard description of ABA. List the following seven characteristics of ABA.

  • Applied: ABA focuses on the social meaning of the behavior studied. For example, a non-applied researcher may study eating behavior because this research helps to clarify metabolic processes, whereas an applied researcher may study eating behavior in people who eat too little or too much, trying to change that behavior to be more acceptable to the people involved.
  • Behavior: ABA is pragmatic; asks how it is possible to get an individual to do something effectively. To answer this question, the behavior itself must be objectively measured. Verbal descriptions are treated as behavior itself, and not as a substitute for the behavior described.
  • Analytical: Behavior analysis is successful when the analyst understands and can manipulate the events that control objective behavior . This may be relatively easy to do in the laboratory, where a researcher can stage the relevant events, but it is not always easy or ethical in an applied situation. Baer et al.
  • Outline two methods that can be used in applied settings to demonstrate control while maintaining ethical standards. These are the inversion design and the multiple baseline design. In the investment design, the experimenter first measures the choice behavior, introduces an intervention, and then measures the behavior again.
  • The intervention is then removed or reduced, and the behavior is measured once more. The intervention is effective to the extent that behavior changes and then changes again in response to these manipulations. The multiple baseline method can be used for behaviors that seem irreversible.
  • Here, several behaviors are measured and then the intervention is applied to each one in turn. The effectiveness of the intervention is revealed by changes in the behavior to which the intervention is applied.
  • Technological: The description of the analytical investigation must be clear and detailed, so that it can be repeated accurately by any competent researcher. Cooper et al. Describe a good way to check this: have a person trained in applied behavior analysis read the description, and then act out the procedure in detail.
  • If the person makes a mistake or has to ask a question, then the description needs to be improved.
  • Conceptually systematic: Behavior analysis should not simply produce a list of effective interventions. Rather, to the extent possible, these methods should be based on behavioral principles. This is aided by the use of theoretically meaningful terms, such as ‘ secondary reinforcement ‘ or ‘error-free discrimination’, as appropriate.
  • Effective – Although analytical methods must be theoretically based, they must be effective. If an intervention does not produce a large enough effect for practical use, then the analysis has failed.
  • Generality: Behavior analysts should aim for interventions that are generally applicable; The methods should work in different settings, apply to more than one specific behavior, and have long-lasting effects.

Other proposed features

In 2005, Heward et al. suggested that the following five features be added:

  • Accountable – Being accountable means that ABA must be able to demonstrate that its methods are effective. This requires repeatedly measuring the success of the interventions and, if necessary, making changes that improve their effectiveness.
  • Public: ABA methods, results, and theoretical analyzes should be published and open to scrutiny. There are no hidden treatments or mystical, metaphysical explanations.
  • Possible – To be generally useful, interventions must be available to a variety of individuals, who may be teachers, parents, therapists, or even those who wish to modify their own behavior. With proper planning and training, many interventions can be applied by almost anyone willing to invest the effort .
  • Empowerment: ABA provides tools that provide feedback to the professional on the results of the interventions. This allows clinicians to assess their skill level and build confidence in their effectiveness.
  • Optimistic – According to several leading authors, behavior analysts have reason to be optimistic that their efforts pay off socially, for the following reasons:
    • Behaviors impacted by behavior analysis are largely determined by learning and controlled by manipulable aspects of the environment.
    • Practitioners can improve performance through direct and continuous measurements.
    • When a professional uses behavioral techniques with positive results, they become more confident of future success.
    • The literature provides many examples of successful teaching of individuals previously considered unteachable.



Behavior refers to the movement of some part of an organism that changes some aspect of the environment . Often the term behavior refers to a class of responses that share physical dimensions or functions, and in that case a response is a single instance of that behavior.

If a response group has the same function, this group can be called a response class. “Repertoire” refers to the various responses available to an individual; the term can refer to responses that are relevant to a particular situation, or it can refer to everything a person can do.

Operant conditioning

Operative behavior is so-called “voluntary” behavior that is responsive to or controlled by its consequences. Specifically, operant conditioning refers to the three-term contingency that stimulus control uses, particularly an antecedent contingency called a discriminative stimulus (DE) that influences the strengthening or weakening of behavior through consequences such as reinforcement or punishment . .

The term is used quite broadly, from reaching for a candy bar, to turning up the heat to escape an aversive chill, to studying for a test to get good grades.

Respondent (classical) conditioning

Respondent (classical) conditioning is based on innate stimulus-response relationships called reflexes. In his famous experiments with dogs, Pavlov usually used the salivary reflex, that is, salivation (unconditioned response) after the taste of food (unconditioned stimulus).

Pairing a neutral stimulus, for example, a bell (conditioned stimulus) with food caused the bell to elicit salivation (conditioned response). Thus, in classical conditioning, the conditioned stimulus becomes a signal for a biologically significant consequence.

Note that in respondent conditioning, unlike operant conditioning, the response does not produce a reinforcer or punishment (for example, the dog does not get food because it salivates).

environment _

The environment is the entire constellation of stimuli in which an organism exists. This includes events both inside and outside of an organism, but only actual physical events are included. A stimulus is a “change of energy that affects an organism through its receptor cells.”

A stimulus can be described:

  • Topographically by its physical characteristics.
  • Temporarily when it happens.
  • Functionally by its effect on behavior.


Reinforcement is the key element in operant conditioning and in most behavior change programs. It is the process by which behavior is strengthened. If a behavior is closely followed by a stimulus and this results in an increase in the future frequency of that behavior, then the stimulus is a positive reinforcer.

If removing an event serves as a reinforcement, this is called negative reinforcement. There are multiple reinforcement schedules that affect the future probability of behavior.


Punishment is a process by which a consequence immediately follows a behavior that decreases the future frequency of that behavior. As with reinforcement, a stimulus can be added (positive punishment) or removed (negative punishment). Generally speaking, there are three types of punishment:

Presentation of aversive stimuli (eg, pain ), response cost (removal of desirable stimuli as in monetary fines), and restriction of freedom (as in a ” time out”). Punishment in practice can often lead to unwanted side effects. Some other possible unwanted effects include resentment of being punished, attempts to escape punishment, expression of pain and negative emotions associated with it, and recognition by the punished individual between the punishment and the person applying it.


Extinction is the technical term to describe the procedure of withholding/discontinuing reinforcement of a previously reinforced behavior, resulting in the lessening of that behavior. The behavior is set to go extinct (Cooper et al.). Suppression procedures are often preferred over punishment procedures, as many punishment procedures are considered unethical and are prohibited in many states.

However, extinguishing procedures must be implemented with the utmost care by professionals, as they are usually associated with extinguishing explosions. An extinction burst is the temporary increase in the frequency, intensity, and/or duration of extinction-directed behavior. Other characteristics of an extinction burst include extinction-produced aggression:

The occurrence of an emotional response to an extinction procedure that often manifests as aggression; and b) variability of the response induced by extinction: the appearance of novel behaviors that normally did not occur before the extinction procedure. These novel behaviors are a central component of shaping procedures.

Discriminated operant and contingency of three terms

In addition to establishing a relationship between behavior and its consequences, operant conditioning also establishes relationships between conditions and antecedent behaviors. This differs from the S – R (If-A-then-B) formulations, and replaces it with an AB-because-of-C formulation. In other words, the relationship between a behavior (B) and its context (A) is due to consequences (C), more specifically, this relationship between AB due to C indicates that the relationship is established by previous consequences that have occurred. in similar situations.

Contexts This antecedent-behavior-consequence contingency is called a three-term contingency. A behavior that occurs more frequently in the presence of an antecedent condition than in its absence is called a discriminated operant. The antecedent stimulus is called the discriminative stimulus (SD).

The fact that the discriminated operant occurs only in the presence of the discriminative stimulus is an illustration of stimulus control. More recently, behavior analysts have focused on the conditions that occur before the circumstances for the current behavior of concern that increased the probability that the behavior will or will not occur.

These conditions have been variously referred to as “Event Establishment”, “Operations Establishment”, and “ Operations Motivation ” by various researchers in their publications.

verbal behavior

BF Skinner‘s behavior analysis classification system has been applied to the treatment of a number of communication disorders. Skinner‘s system includes:

  • Touch ( psychology ) – A verbal response evoked by a nonverbal antecedent and maintained by generalized conditioned reinforcement.
  • Mand (psychology) : behavior under the control of motivating operations maintained by a characteristic reinforcer.
  • Intraverbal: Verbal behavior for which the relevant antecedent stimulus was another verbal behavior, but which does not share the response topography of that prior verbal stimulus (for example, responding to another speaker‘s question).
  • Autoclitic – Secondary verbal behavior that alters the effect of the primary verbal behavior on the listener. Examples include quantification, grammar, and qualifying statements (eg, the differential effects of “I think…” vs. “I know…”)

For the Skinner system assessment of verbal behavior, see Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Abilities .

behavior measurement

When measuring behavior, there are two dimensions of behavior and quantifiable measures of behavior. In applied behavior analysis, the quantifiable measures are a derivative of the dimensions. These dimensions are repeatability, temporal extension, and temporal locus.


The response classes occur repeatedly over time, that is, how many times the behavior occurs.

  • The count is the number of occurrences in the behavior.
  • Frequency / frequency is the number of behavior instances per unit of time.
  • The holding is the measure of how the rate changes over time.

temporary extension

This dimension indicates that each behavior instance occupies a certain amount of time, that is, how long the behavior lasts.

  • Duration is the period of time during which the behavior occurs.

temporal locus

Each instance of behavior occurs at a specific point in time, that is, when the behavior occurs.

  • Response latency is the measure of the time elapsed between the onset of a stimulus and the onset of the response.
  • Response time is the amount of time that occurs between two consecutive instances of a response class.

derived measures

Derived measures are not related to specific dimensions:

  • Percentage is the ratio formed by combining the same dimensional quantities.
  • Criterion tests are the number of response opportunities required to achieve a predetermined level of performance.

Analyzing behavior change

experimental control

In applied behavior analysis, all experiments should include the following:

  • at least one participant
  • At least one behavior (dependent variable)
  • at least one configuration
  • A system for measuring behavior and continuous visual analysis of data.
  • At least one treatment or intervention condition
  • Manipulations of the independent variable so that its effects on the dependent variable can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively.
  • An intervention that will benefit the participant in some way

Technologies developed through ABA research

task analysis

Task analysis is a process in which a task is broken down into its component parts so that those parts can be taught through the use of chaining: forward chaining, backward chaining , and full task presentation. Task analysis has been used in organizational behavior management, a behavior analytic approach to changing the behaviors of members of an organization (for example, factories, offices, or hospitals).

Behavior scripts often arise from a task analysis. Bergan conducted a task analysis of the behavioral consultation relationship and Thomas Kratochwill developed a training program based on teaching Bergan’s skills. A similar approach was used for the development of micro-skills training for counsellors.

Ivey would later call this highly productive “behavioral” phase, and the skills-based approach dominated counselor training during the 1970s–90s. Task analysis was also used to determine the skills needed to access a career. In education, Englemann (1968) used task analysis as part of the methods for designing the Direct Instruction curriculum.


The ability to learn is divided into small units to facilitate learning. For example, a person who is learning to brush their teeth independently may begin to learn how to unscrew the toothpaste cap. Once they have learned this, the next step may be to tighten the tube etc.

For problem behavior, strings can also be parsed and the string can be interrupted to prevent the problem behavior. Some behavior therapies, such as dialectical behavior therapy , make extensive use of behavior chain analysis, but are not philosophically behavior analytic.

Apply for

A cue is a signal used to encourage the desired response from an individual. Notices are often ranked in a hierarchy of notices from most intrusive to least intrusive, although there is some controversy as to what is considered more intrusive, those that are physically intrusive, or those that are more difficult to dispel (for example, verbal).

To minimize errors and ensure a high level of success during learning, the prompts are given in a sequence from high to low and fade out systematically. During this process, the prompts fade away as quickly as possible so that the student is not dependent on them and eventually behaves appropriately without asking.

Prompt Types Requesters may use any or all of the following to suggest the desired response:

  • Vocal cues: words or other vocalizations
  • Visual cues: a visual cue or image
  • Gesture cues: a physical gesture

Positional Notice: For example, the target item is placed close to the individual.

Modeling: modeling the desired response. This type of notice is best suited for people who learn through imitation and can attend to a model.

Physical cues: physically manipulating the individual to produce the desired response. There are many degrees of physical cues, from quite intrusive (eg, the teacher places a hand on the student’s hand) to minimally intrusive (eg, a light touch).

This is not an exhaustive list of indications; The nature, number, and order of the prompts are chosen to be most effective for a particular individual.


The overall goal is that a person eventually doesn’t need directions. As an individual gains mastery of a skill at a particular prompt level, the prompt fades to a less intrusive prompt. This ensures that the individual does not become overly dependent on a particular cue when learning a new behavior or skill.

Slim down a booster schedule

Thinning is often confused with discoloration. Fading refers to a prompt being removed, where thinning refers to an increase in the time or number of responses required between reinforcements. Periodic tapering that produces a 30% decrease in reinforcement has been suggested as an efficient way to lose weight.

Reduced hours is often a major and neglected topic in contingency management and token economy systems, especially when these are developed by unskilled professionals (see behavior analysis professional practice ).



Generalization is the expansion of a student’s performance capacity beyond the initial conditions established for the acquisition of a skill. Generalization can occur across people, places, and materials used for teaching. For example, once a skill is learned in one setting, with a particular instructor, and with specific materials, the skill is taught in more general settings with more variation from the initial acquisition phase.

For example, if a student has successfully mastered learning colors at the table, the teacher can take the student around the home or school and generalize the skill to these more natural settings with other materials. Behavior analysts have spent a considerable amount of time studying the factors that lead to generalization.


Shaping involves gradually modifying existing behavior into desired behavior. If the student engages with a dog by hitting it, then she could shape her behavior by reinforcing interactions where she touches the dog more gently. In many interactions, successful conformation would replace patting or other softer behavior.

Shaping is based on a behavior analyst’s in-depth knowledge of the principles of operant conditioning and extinction. Recent efforts to teach configuration have used simulated computing tasks.

One teaching technique that is effective with some students, particularly children, is the use of video modeling (the use of recorded sequences as examples of behavior). It can be used by therapists to aid in the acquisition of both verbal and motor responses, in some cases for long chains of behavior.

We hope that you have understood the concept of Applied behavior analysis in detail.

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