ABA Techniques for Parents, Teachers and Technicians (RBTS)


Measuring Behavior

Defining and Measuring Behavior

See the relevant pages on Wikipedia, which are summarized below 


In ABA we work only with behavior. A behavior is usually something that other persons can see or hear when looking at the person doing them. We do not use mentalisms which are concepts about what is going on inside a persons head, but which we cannot see.

We know that some private events occur inside our heads that other people cannot see. These can be internal verbal behaviors or images (thoughts). We can describe our internal thoughts or images to other people using verbal behavior or other forms of communication drawings, etc.

So when we work with a behavior, we have to say and write exactly what we and others can observe when the person is doing that behavior.

There is a test we use to determine if something is a behavior, called the dead man test. If a dead person can do it, it is not a behavior. Foe example wearing a watch is not a behavior. Putting on a watch is a behavior. When a dog is sleeping, and it moves its legs, that is a behavior.

Many behaviors are very complex with many observable steps, such as washing dishes. First we put the dishes in soapy water, then we pick one up and scrub it with a sponge, when we see there is no more food on the dish, then we put it in or under clean water, and put it to the side to dry. These steps are called a chain of behaviors.

When any animal is in an environment, it can see thousands of stimuli. Depending upon its motivation at any moment, it will focus on the stimuli that have led to meeting its need in the past. If it is hungry, it will look for food, if thirsty, it will look for water. If it finds food in its dish, its behavior of looking in the dish is reinforced, and is more likely to happen again when it is hungry. If the dish is empty, it is not reinforced.

We call this the 3 part contingency or ABC. Antecedent stimulus, Behavior, Consequence

The consequence can be reinforcement of the behavior, or its punishment, or no consequence, which can lead to extinction of the behavior.

The motivation of the animal or person tells us the function of the behavior. The person does what has worked in the past to meet her needs in that situation.

In ABA we are either training people to prepare for situations they have not encountered yet, or training them in better behaviors to deal with situations that have been a problem in the past. Note that each person has hundreds of thousands or millions of behaviors, depending on the situations they may encounter in different environments.

Functions of various behaviors might include to obtain something, such as food, water, or attention from others, to avoid or stop something that is annoying or painful, to stimulate oneself with sights, sounds or thoughts that are pleasing to the person. One behavior such as crying might work well for different functions in different situations.

In ABA, when we try to reduce the use of a troublesome behavior, we try to teach and increase a behavior that would work better in that specific situation.

We measure how many behaviors we are trying to increase or decrease are occurring, and we graph this data to make it easier for all involved to see if the behavior is increasing or decreasing.

It is very useful for parents to help collect data, and essential for teachers and technicians.


English Videos on Youtube:

What is a behavior:


ABC Graphic

Data Taking Test

Taking data is important

Types of measurement:


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