ABA Terms

ABA Reversal

A basic single-subject design in which baseline measurements (A) are contrasted with measurements during treatment (B) across conditions which alternate to determine causal effects.

adjunctive behavior

Excessive (possibly arbitrary) behaviors that occur between trials or between reinforcers.

analytical pragmatism

A set of principles and philosophies that reflect a commitment to practical, behavioral methods of assessment and analysis.

appetitive stimulus

A positively reinforcing stimulus.

applied behavior analysis

The use of basic behavior principles to analyze and solve practical problems.

aversion therapy

A Pavlovian procedure in which stimuli that elicit inappropriate behaviors are paired with an aversive stimulus (shock, emetics, ammonia) to produce strong conditioned responses (nausea, fear, etc). Used to treat child molestation, alcohol abuse, etc.

aversive stimulus

A noxious or unpleasant stimulus.

backward chaining

A method used to train chained performances in which the last behavior in the chain is trained first; then each preceding behavior is gradually introduced.


The base rate of behavior, before intervention, against which the efficacy of experimental manipulations is compared.

behavior analysis

A comprehensive experimental approach to the study of behavior with the objective of investigating, identifying, describing,and using the general principles and laws which govern behavior.

behavior trapping

Teaching of a new behavior that becomes trapped (or maintained) through natural contingencies of reinforcement.

behavioral medicine

A behavior change program that targets health-related activities such as patient compliance, taking medicines, exercise regimens, etc..

behavioral repertoire

The full set of behaviors that an organism does. Everything that an organism does, including both overt and covert actions, like thinking.


The idea that a subject's evolutionary history causes some responses and relationships to be more easily learned.

changing criterion

A research design in which the rate of the target response is progressively changed (up or down). Used when the final level of the target response is radically different from baseline and likely to resist change (Example: smoking).

classical conditioning

A procedure in which a neutral stimulus (NS) comes to elicit a conditioned response (CR) as a result of being paired with an unconditioned stimulus (UCS).

compound stimulus

A stimulus that is composed of several components.

concurrent behavioral contingency

More than one contingency of reinforcement is in effect at the same time.

conditioned emotional response

Suppression of a positively reinforced operant response by the presentation of a stimulus that has previously been classically conditioned with an aversive stimulus.

conditioned reinforcer

A stimulus that has acquired reinforcing properties through its association with other reinforcing stimuli.

constructional approach to behavior change

A training system that focuses on skill-building to teach individual requisite skills needed for appropriate behaviors that can later be substituted for inappropriate behaviors.

context of behavior

The biological and experiential history of the organism combined with the contextual stimuli that are present when conditioning occurs.

contingency trap

Unwanted behavior by the subject occurs frequently because it is reinforced through negative attention while temporary relief from the unwanted behavior reinforces the experimenter's use of negative attention.

contingency-shaped behavior

Operant behavior which is directly under the control of the contingencies, as opposed to rule-governed behavior.

continuous reinforcement

A reinforcement schedule in which every response is reinforced.

correspondence training

A training method which focuses on teaching subjects to have a high correlation between a verbal commitment (Say) and the actual behavior (Do).

dependent variable

What is measured in an experiment - in behavior analysis, it is always the behavior of the subject.


The procedure of restricting or limiting access to a reinforcing event or stimulus.

differential reinforcement of high rates

A particular reinforcement schedule in which reinforcement is delivered for rates of responding above a specified criterion.

differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviors

A particular reinforcement schedule in which reinforcement is delivered for behaviors which are incompatible with the target response.

differential reinforcement of low rates

A particular reinforcement schedule in which reinforcement is delivered for rates of responding below a specified criterion.

differential reinforcement of other behaviors

A particular reinforcement schedule in which reinforcement is delivered for behaviors other than the target response.

discrete trials procedure

Isolating and teaching a specific task to an individual by repeatedly presenting the task to the individual across various trials. Responses are recorded for each trial and each successful response is usually reinforced.


A form of stimulus control in which the subject responds differentially to stimuli that share share too few relevant features.

displacement behavior

Behavior which is irrelevant, incongruous or out of context which arises when consummatory behaviors are interrupted or prevented.


A symptom of autism in which the child ONLY repeats spoken language (echoic in nature) and fails to exhibit normal verbal behaviors.

errorless discrimination training

A discrimination procedure in which the initial training involves only a brief, low intensity presentation of S-. Gradually, the intensity and duration of the S- is increased. Subjects rarely (if ever) respond to S-.

establishing operation

Any change in the environment which alters the effectiveness of a stimulus to serve as a reinforcer and increases the probability of responses that have previously produced that stimulus - (i.e. food deprivation).

experimental analysis of behavior

A single-subject method of investigation in which complex environment-behavior relations are systematically broken down into simpler component relations which reveal basic principles and controlling variables.


The reduction in frequency of an operant response which was previously rewarded that results when the response is no longer followed by the reinforcer.

extinction burst

A rapid burst of target responses that occur which extinction is first applied.

extrinsic reinforcers

Reinforcers that are arranged artificially by the experimenter, teacher or parent, and which would not naturally occur.


A procedure in which a stimulus is gradually increased or decreased in intensity. Can be used to transfer control from one stimulus to another.

fear hierarchy

The graduate set of feared objects, activities, or events that are constructed by a client and therapist to treat phobic responses using systematic desensitization.


The presentation of feared objects, activites or events, often at full strength, in a manner that prevents escape or avoidance. Often an alternative to systematic desensitization.

fluency training

The use of a changing criterion design to gradually increase the speed and accuracy of behavior (i.e. math fluency, foreign language fluency, etc.).

forward chaining

A method used to train chained performances in which the first behavior in the chain is trained first; then each subsequent behavior is gradually introduced.

functional behavior analysis

An thorough analysis of pretreatment behavior in terms of the antecedents and consequence associated with target behaviors. Is used to identify the function or purpose of the target behavior.

generalized reinforcer

A specialized form of conditioned reinforcer which is backed up by a variety of primary reinforcers (i.e. money).

habit reversal

A procedure in which the subject is required to engage in an incompatible response in order to eliminate unwanted behaviors. Used to reduce nervous muscle responses and tics.


A decrease in responsiveness that comes as a result of repeated stimulation.

hypothetical constructs

Nonobservable postulated events that are presumed to explain behavior but which become problematic because they are not directly observed, and are inferred from the behavior which they are purported to cause.

in vitro desensitization

The use of imaginal activities as part of the fear heirarchy in the treatment of phobias.

in vivo desensitization

Treatment for phobias which involve actually engaging in the feared responses or activities.

independent variable

What is manipulated by the experimenter. In behavior analysis, the IV is typically the arrangement of events which precede or follow a response (establishing operations, stimulus control, and/or consequences).

intermittent reinforcement

A reinforcement schedule in which responding is reinforced only some of the time.

interresponse time

Interval between successive responses.

intertrial interval

The time that elapses between two successive trials in an experiment.

intrinsic reinforcers

Reinforcers that are the natural outcome of the target behavior. (i.e. social rewards of engaging in verbal behavior with others)

Keller's personalized system of instruction

A college teaching method based on principles of operant conditioning in which courses are arranged such that students move through the material at their own speed and are reinforced for completing small course units.

law of effect

A fundamental prinple of behavior that states that the effects of our actions determine whether we will repeat them.

learned helplessness effect

Interference with the learning of a new instrumental response as a result of inescapable and unavoidable aversive stimulation.


An relatively enduring change in behavior that results from an interaction with the environment.

learning curve

Graph showing how behavior changes during the course of an experiment.


Placement of developmentally disabled, learning disabled, and language-delayed students in regular classes.


A behavioral program to teach women effective breast self-examination techniques.

multiple baseline across behaviors

A research design in which the same reinforcement procedure is applied progressively to several operants. Subject, setting and consequences remain the same while different responses are modified sequentially. Demonstrates reinforcer efficacy.

multiple baseline across stimulus conditions

A research design in which a reinforcement procedure is applied in one setting but withheld in other settings. Once behavior changes in the first setting, the procedure is then applied to the same response in another setting. Trains generalization.

multiple baseline across subjects

A research design in which a reinforcement procedure is progressively introduced across different individuals who exhibit similar target behaviors. Demonstrates generality of treatment & external validity.

negative reinforcement

A principle of behavior in which behavior increases as a result of the termination an aversive event or stimulus.

negatively accelerating

A learning curve in which performance is increasing at a slower and slower rate.

negatively decelerating

A learning curve in which performance is decreasing at a slower and slower rate.

observer drift

gradual increases or decreases in an observer's likelihood to identify a given behavior; reduces DV accuracy.

operant conditioning

A conditioning process in which an antecedent stimulus comes to occasion a target response as a result of pairing with a particular outcome or consequence.


Subjects are repeatedly required to engage in appropriate, correcting and incompatible behaviors.

partial-reinforcement extinction effect

A term used to describe greater persistence in instrumental responding during extinction

passive avoidance

Refraining from action which minimizes contact with the aversive stimulus.

performance contract

A written rule or statement describing the target behavior, the occasions when the target response should (should not) occur and the outcome for that behavior.

pivotal response training

Teaching behaviors that are central to wide areas of functioning and whose mastery leads to improvements in a larger number of behaviors (e.g. language, fine motor skills, naming, following directions, etc..)

positive reinforcement

A principle of behavior in which behavior increases as a result of the presentation of an appetitive stimulus.

positively accelerating

A learning curve in which performance is increasing at a faster and faster rate.

positively decelerating

A learning curve in which performance is decreasing at a faster and faster rate.

Premack principle

According to this principle, you can increase the strength or likelihood of a target response if you make the opportunity to perform a more preferred response contingent upon performance of the target response.

private behavior

Behavior which is only accessible to the individual who emits it (i.e. thinking)


The explicit training of a supplemental stimulus (SD) that increases the probability of a response. Used to establish stimulus control. Usually it is faded out replaced by naturally occurring SDs.


A stimulus (or event) whose availability shortly following the target response increases the future likelihood of that response.

response blocking

Physically intervening to prevent the completion of the response as soon as the person begins to emit the problem behavior.

response chain

A consecutively ordered series of responses in which each response produces a cue for the next response in the sequence.

response class

A class of related behaviors that functionally produce the same consequences. (e.g. "please open the door" and opening the door both produce an open door).

response cost

A principle of behavior in which behavior decreases as a result of the removal of an actual appetitive stimulus (e.g. parking or traffic fines).

response latency

The time elapsed between the presentation of a stimulus and the subject's response. This is often used as a dependent variable.

response-reinforcer contingency

A relationship in which a consequence (reinforcer) is delivered if and only if the target response occurs.

rule-governed behavior

Instructed behavior or behavior which conforms to a previous learned (verbal) rule.


A discriminative stimulus that suppresses instrumental responding because it signals that reinforcement is not available.


Repeated presentation of a stimulus can reduce its efficacy as a reinforcer - can be used as a treatment strategy.

schedule thinning

Gradually increasing the requirements to earn a reinforcer: increases the response requirement in terms of number of responses or delays to reinforcement.


A discriminative stimulus that evokes instrumental behavior because it signals the availability of reinforcement for a target response.

self -injurious behavior

Abnormal behaviors that are harmful to oneself, such as head- banging or scratching or biting oneself.


Foregoing an immediate, small reward for a larger, more delayed reward.


Abnormal, repetative behaviors that interfere with the individual's ability to pay attention or participate in meaningful activity, spinning objects.


Reinforcing successive approximations to the required (target) response.

social skills training

A technique used to teach skills that allow the child to be successful at interacting and developing social relationships with peers, family, and other adults.

social validity

The goals, procedures and results of an intervention are acceptable to the client, the behavior analyst and to society.

stimulus control

The ability of a particular stimulus to elicit or occasion a target response.

stimulus generalization

The occurrence of a behavior, learned in the presence of one stimulus, that is emitted in response to other stimilar (novel) stimuli.

superstitious behavior

Behavior which increases in frequency as a result of accidental (coincidental) pairing of an appetitive stimulus and the occurrence of a particular behavior.

task analysis

The process of breaking a skill down into smaller steps to be taught individually.


Removal of the opportunity to earn or obtain positive reinforcement.

token economy

A reinforcement system in which tokens are delivered contingent upon specified target behaviors. Tokens can be exchanged for goods, services, privileges and/or other backup reinforcers. Effective in classrooms, nursing homes, in-patient facilities, etc..

vicarious conditioning

Change in the performance of one learner based on observation of the consequences of another learner's behavior.