Principles of Behavior Analysis

A behavior is any observable and measurable action.

Some principles of Behavior Analysis are:

  • Behavior is largely a product of its environment.

  • Behavior is strengthened or weakened by its consequences.

  • Behavior responds better to positive rather than negative consequences.

  • Whether a behavior is punished or reinforced is only known by the behavior in the future   (reinforcement = strengthens and punishment = weakens).

  • Past behavior is the biggest predictor of future behavior.

  • If a behavior increases (happens more often) IT IS being reinforced by someone  or something.

  • Positive/Negative reinforcement DOES NOT mean good or bad. It means to present (add) or remove (take away).

  • Problem behaviors compete with appropriate behaviors and usually win (they’re easier and more rewarding).

  • A person might not have learned the appropriate forms of achieving the same function.

  • Successful changes will depend on: Physical effort involved, schedule of reinforcement, and how many times they are required to perform.

Commonly Used Behavioral Terms:

Reinforcement: Something that follows a behavior and makes that behavior more likely to occur again in the future. This goes for appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. So, if a behavior is increasing (happening more often), no matter what the behavior, then someone or something is reinforcing that behavior.

Natural Consequences: Something that is directly related to the behavior. For example, getting burned while carelessly playing with matches.

Social Consequences: Something that makes sense, but isn’t necessarily directly linked to the behavior.  For example, losing TV privileges because the assigned chores were not done.  Social consequences are often used to teach lessons that would otherwise be learned only at great risk.  So, hopefully one can employ a social consequence to a situation so that a natural consequence never has to happen.

Positive Reinforcement: Occurs when someone engages in a behavior to acquire or contact some “positive stimulus”. For example, your child is whining for some candy in the store checkout line. As a result, you give your child the candy. The whining has been positively reinforced. The gum is the reinforcer. Your child will be MORE likely to whine for candy in the future because his/her whining “worked”.

Negative Reinforcement: Occurs when someone engages in a behavior to escape or avoid some “negative stimulus”. Using the same example as above: The parent has been negatively reinforced because s/he “escaped” a negative stimulus (whining) by engaging in a behavior (purchasing the candy). The parent will be MORE likely to give in to the whining next time because the child stopped whining as a result of the parent giving in.

Punishment: Something that follows a behavior and makes that behavior less likely to occur again in the future.

For example: “Jon”, an HDC student, hits another person.  As a consequence, he is demoted from level 4 to level 0.  He loses telephone and TV privileges, has an earlier bedtime, and doesn’t get to go on outings.  We will know that “Jon” finds this consequence punishing if, in the future, he does not hit others (or hits others less frequently than he used to).

Shaping: A way of teaching a new behavior.  The person is reinforced for successive approximations of the desired behavior, gradually increasing the criteria (“upping the ante”) for reinforcement.

For example: “Dan” is a new student to HDC.  He has lived at home all his life, with extremely protective parents.  He is afraid to ride in vans.  He is treated with a shaping procedure, where he earns small amounts of soda (something he finds reinforcing) at first just for standing near the van. Then he is rewarded for standing right next to the van, then for standing by it while the engine is running, then for sitting inside it,  then for sitting inside it for a short drive around the block, and finally for sitting inside it for a longer drive to the store, et cetera.

Fading: Gradually removing the prompts and reinforcers that maintained a behavior.

For example: When “Jeff” was first learning to set the table by himself, his coach praised him for completing each step (getting the plates, silverware, napkins, etc..).  “Jeff” also got a star on his token chart every time he did the task correctly.  When he had learned the task, his coach praised him less often, and he no longer had that task on his token chart.  The prompts and reinforcers were faded out until “Jeff” was performing the task on his own, like we all do in the natural environment.