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A Glossary of Terms Defining the Science of Behavior

Applied behavior analysis is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior.

— Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968 in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis

Beyond behavior modification: A return to behavior analysis... Before applied behavior analysts had a methodology to identify the conditions maintaining aberrant behavior, the reinforcement histories that gave rise to current behavior-environment interactions were largely ignored.

— Mace, 1994 in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis

Instead, existing repertoires were established and new ones altered by superimposing reinforcement contingencies, punishment contingencies, or both, onto the current environmental contingencies or unknown processes that maintained aberrant behavior. The approach was generically known as behavior modification.

— Mace, 1994 in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis

Behavior modification was an early approach that emphasized how powerful reinforcement and punishment contingencies can change behavior regardless of its causes. Applied behavior analysis was an approach that emphasized the analysis of functional relations between behavior and its causes (Mace, 1994).

— Pelios, Morren, Tesch, and Axelrod, 1999 in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis

We briefly summarize...the foundation for the field of behavior modification.... Modification of psychotic and various aggressive, disruptive and otherwise undesirable behaviors… involved introducing reinforcement and/or punishment contingencies to an existing environment without regard for the natural contingencies that supported undesirable behavior…

— Mace & Critchfield, 2010 in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

...the basic and applied sectors of behavior analysis were disconnected in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Mace, 1994)... ABA changed abruptly in the mid-1980s... Known collectively as functional analysis methodologies, these procedures shifted the focus of ABA research to determining the factors that maintain undesirable behavior and using this information to promote replacement behaviors that serve the same function (e.g., see Pelios, Morren, Tesch, & Axelrod, 1999)...

— Mace & Critchfield, 2010 in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

Although many behavior modification methods arose from behavior analysis, there is much more to ABA today than techniques for modifying behavior.

— "Identifying ABA Interventions Whitepaper" by Association for Professional Behavior Analysts, 2017

ABA is the application of basic learning principles, including respondent and operant conditioning, to bring about measurable changes in behavior.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the application of basic learning principles, including respondent and operant conditioning, to bring about measurable changes in behavior that are socially significant, whether to: reduce substance abuse, as well as anxiety, depression, phobias, or tics; teach children with pediatric feeding disorders how to eat properly; promote diet and exercise; organize workers in the labor force; preclude school violence; or even train canines. In addition, ABA is widely used and empirically substantiated to be highly effective when utilized as the basis for intensive, early interventions for children diagnosed with autism.

For educators, social workers, psychologists, parents, mental health professionals, and college students entering into similar fields, it is crucial to understand the true science of behavior analysis. Currently, many often equate ABA with discrete trial training (DTT). DTT is a commonly used teaching technique based on the three-term operant contingency (A-B-C) when implementing early intervention for children with autism.

The student learning about ABA should realize that most undergraduate college (and even high school) textbooks write various definition and category errors on the subject, the most common of which are the following: While methodological behaviorism supposedly conceptualized covert behavior (or used stimulus control), radical behaviorism only considers overt physical activity to be behavior; respondent—not operant—conditioning involves a discriminative stimulus (Sd); and ABA and behavior modification are exact synonyms (some college textbooks even state that ABA is just one form of behavior modification used as an early intervention for children with autism).

In fact, behavior modification was a structural approach that was concerned with applying the principles of learning to change behavior (though not initially analyzing the causes of such behavior). Modification of behavior consisted of either presumed antecedents (stimulus control) and consequences (reinforcement and punishment), or flooding desensitization without the use of a functional behavior assessment (FBA)—which today are considered to be rather linear procedures.

ABA, on the other hand, is a functional approach that initially emphasizes identifying the function of behavior—including attention seeking, escape/avoidance, sensory stimulation, or tangible access to an item or activity—by throughly examining how historical consequential contingencies comes to regulate current (antecedent) stimulus control, as well as allowing the client to select the reinforcer that he or she finds motivating.

To add, a larger role is placed on B.F. Skinner's radical behaviorism, or his conceptual analysis of behavior (CAB)the conceptual philosophy of behavior analysisin the clinical behavior analysis (CBA) subfield of ABA, since the science also incorporates private events (particularly cognition and emotions) as "more behavior to [later] be explained" (Pierce & Cheney, 2013, p. 21). In other words, many clinical applications of behavior analysis (CBA) employ covert counterconditioning techniques, such as mindfulness in the counseling intervention acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and often meditation in systematic desensitization—also called graduated exposure therapy (GET)—for the treatment of phobias.

Another difference with ABA when applied to combat phobias is practitioners prefer implementing systematic desensitization to gradually expose him or her to a feared, aversive stimulus, as opposed to employing flooding, which is still used rarely, but under a functional behavior assessment (FBA).

Preference assessments are even employed to precisely identify the motivational incentives that are reinforcing to the client in the voucher-based (or prize-based) contingency management of drug abuse.

That way, once we identify the function of the behavior first, then we are able to determine the procedures that will be most effective in changing the animal or person’s behavior, especially so that functionally equivalent replacement behaviors can be established.

Despite the evidence, in recent years, some psychologists conducted studies claiming to have used 'behavior modification' in their experiment. However, it is an outdated label and these researchers are still unclear about the true science of behavior analysis.

This can be used as a cutting-edge, valid resource for students and professionals alike. It should also be noted that applications of ABA do go beyond this glossary; for example, AIDS prevention, biofeedback, overcoming gambling addictions, etc.

Behavior Analysis: The term, initially coined by B.F. Skinner, refers to analyzing the science of behavior by thoroughly assessing historical events that occurred in the environment to explain the function of observable behavior before conceptualizing more covert forms of behavior as well. That way, we know which current environmental events to manipulate so lasting (and even permanent) changes are made in the organism's behavior. This is developed through either of the following learning principles: stimulus control and differential reinforcement contingencies, or stimulus-response (S-R) procedures to promote—and, in many cases, later diminish and eliminate—various reflexes. Behavior analysis has three subcategories: radical behaviorism (or the philosophy of the science), experimental analysis of behavior (EAB; basic experimental (laboratory) research), and applied behavior analysis (ABA).

Radical Behaviorism: Also called the conceptual analysis of behavior (CAB). The philosophy and conceptual foundation of behavior analysis. Radical behaviorism is based on the theory that behavior is a biological response to overt stimuli in the environment, with thoughts and feelings as "more behavior to [later] be explained" (Pierce & Cheney, 2013, p. 21). In addition to examining observable behavior, thoughts are explained in the animal or person's spoken language, while feelings are identified through their overt physical actions.

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Functional Analysis of Behavior (FAB): Considered the core procedure of behavior analysis, it is the examination of the variables that underlie the function (causes) of the operant behavior, which include either of the following: attention seeking, escape and avoidance, sensory stimulation, or tangible access to an item or activity. See functional behavior assessment (FBA).

Learning: Also called Conditioning. As perfectly summarized by Pierce & Cheney (2013, p. 1, p. 485), "[T]he acquisition, maintenance, and change of an organism's behavior as a result of lifetime events", including the basic learning principles of Respondent and Operant Conditioning, as well as Modeling (Observational Learning).

Respondent Conditioning: Frequently credited to Ivan Pavlov. In respondent conditioning, a neutral (antecedent) stimulus associates with an unconditioned stimulus with the result that the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS). Before conditioning, the target behavior is not elicited when the neutral stimulus is present. After conditioning, however, it is elicited as a conditional response—or reflex in the presence of the conditioned stimulus. Sometimes referred to as classical conditioning; see stimulus-response (S-R).

Operant Conditioning: Also called contingency management (CM), or the three-term operant contingency (A-B-C). Skinner explored how behavior is controlled by the contingencies in the environment, particularly the antecedent stimuli that precede and the consequences following the behavior. While the discriminative (antecedent) stimulus (Sd) emits the given behavior, consequences that are motivating will likely increase the desired behavior, skill, or task if the living organism (whether it be a person or animal) chooses from an array of reinforcers. The behavior will decrease, however, if the consequence is a punisher, and the behavior will likely no longer occur if extinction is used. Related terms include stimulus control, motivating operations, differential reinforcement contingencies, shaping, token economy, self-management, and contingency contracting.

Modeling: Also referred to as observational learning. A learning principle which emphasizes observing someone else's actions and imitating what they do, often used in conjunction with other forms of learning (conditioning), and usually accredited to Albert Bandura. When employed in an early intensive behavior intervention (EIBI) program, the child might imitate the therapist model saying "fuh" by placing his or her own top teeth over their bottom lip.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): Also referred to as behavioral engineering. The application of behavior analysis to bring about measurable changes in behavior that are socially significant, whether to train canines, organize workers in the labor force, reduce phobias, promote abstinence from substance abuse, preclude school violence, or deliver early instructional interventions to children with autism, just to name a few. The goal of ABA is to understand the function of the underlying behavior. Moreover, in a given situation where behaviors are too difficult to manage, new, replacement behaviors are generally taught.

Behavior Modification: A structural approach that was concerned with applying the principles of learning to change behavior (though not initially analyzing the causes of such behavior). Modification of behavior consisted of either presumed antecedents (stimulus control) and consequences (reinforcement and punishment), or flooding desensitization without the use of a functional behavior assessment (FBA)—which today are considered to be rather linear procedures. It was mainly practiced in the 1970s and early ’80s, and is currently outdated. To put simply, the techniques lacked not only a functional analysis, but also Skinner's radical behaviorism, or his conceptual analysis of behavior. See methodological behaviorism.

Methodological Behaviorism: The term is frequently used to describe John B. Watson's form of behaviorism during the early 1900s, and is also the core philosophy behind behavior modification. This “traditional” form of behaviorism exclusively viewed overt physical activity as behavior, and was therefore, the only target of focus.

Law of Effect: Also called trial and error learning. The term, which is no longer used, was coined by Edward Thorndike, who discovered that reinforcing (and sometimes even punishing) consequences are lawful in that these procedures have an increasing (or decreasing) effect on the organism's behavior. It laid the foundation for reinforcement, the core principle of what is now called the three-term operant contingency (A-B-C), or operant conditioning.

Trace Conditioning: A specific form of respondent conditioning which describes Pavlov's theoretical framework, and a term that derives from the phrase "memory trace." In other words, "the organism must remember the presentation of the [conditioned stimulus] (CS)" (Pierce & Cheney, 2013, p. 70). To add, "as the time between the [occurrence of the] CS and [unconditioned stimulus] (US) increases, the conditioned response (CR, or reflex) becomes weaker" (Pierce & Cheney, 2013, p. 70), and the unconditioned response (UR) serves as the "memory trace." The theory is quite similar to Skinner’s radical behaviorism—or the conceptual analysis of behavior (CAB).

Behavioral Therapy: A wide array of clinical and educational interventions based on behavioral learning theory that rely on the following procedures: chaining (task analysis), contingency management, counterconditioning, habituation, and/or modeling. Such behavioral therapies come in two broad scientific disciplines: applied behavior analysis (ABA) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Although derived from different theoretical frameworks, the two behavioral therapy disciplines—particularly, ABA and CBT—use the same previously noted behavioral learning techniques, leading to much overlap between the fields.

Stimulus-Response (S-R): Refers to the hallmark of respondent conditioning; Stimulus-response (S-R) procedures outline how pairing environmental stimuli elicit a response (or reflex).

Three-Term Operant Contingency (A-B-C): Refers to the hallmark of operant conditioning; reveals the if-then connection between Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence. Also called three-term contingency, A-B-C contingency analysis, or contingency management (CM).

Antecedent: A environmental stimulus that precedes respondent or operant behavior, including the unconditioned stimulus (US), neutral stimulus (NS), conditioned stimulus (CS), discriminative stimulus (Sd), stimulus delta (S-delta), establishing operation (EO), and abolishing operation (AO). Also see stimulus control and motivating operations (MOs).

Neutral Stimulus (NS): An antecedent stimulus in respondent conditioning. After being paired with the unconditioned stimulus (US), the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS).

Conditioned Stimulus (CS): Refers to a conditioned neutral stimulus (NS) in respondent conditioning that potentially elicits a conditioned response (CR)—or reflex.

Stimulus Control: Antecedent control in operant conditioning, consisting of the discriminative stimulus (Sd) and stimulus delta (S-delta). For example, the "Slide to unlock" label on your iPhone is the Sd prompting you to unlock and use it. Another instance of this is when a green traffic light (Sd) signals the driver to place their foot on the gas petal, or pressing the break in response to a red traffic light (S-delta).

Discriminative Stimulus (Sd): An antecedent stimulus that emits the operant behavior. As perfectly stated by Cooper et al. (2007, p. 694), the "history of differential reinforcement is the reason an Sd increases the momentary frequency of the behavior."

Stimulus Delta (S-delta): As perfectly summarized by Julie Skinner Vargas (2013), an educational psychologist who happens to B.F. Skinner's daughter, "A[n] [antecedent] stimulus in the presence of which a particular [operant] response does not occur because of being extinguished [or punished] when that [antecedent] stimulus was present" (p. 350).

Motivating Operations (MOs): Refers to antecedent stimuli in operant conditioning that impacts the effectiveness of the reinforcer, consisting of the establishing operation (EO) and abolishing operation (AO). While the EO enhances the effectiveness of the reinforcer through deprivation, the AO decreases its' potency from satiation. Because of MOs, some have purposed calling operant conditioning a "four-term contingency."

Behavior: From the behavior analytic viewpoint, behavior is any action performed by the animal or person. While public events refer to overt behavior—particularly physical and vocal actions, private events are, as Skinner called them, "[behavior] within the skin" (Skinner, 1974, p. 24). The latter event consists of the organism having thoughts, feelings, and even dreams.

Consequence: An observable environmental contingency that follows the operant behavior. Consequences include reinforcers, punishers, and extinction.

Reinforcement: Consequences (reinforcers) that increase the likelihood of the target behavior.

Positive Reinforcer: Any stimulus (usually pleasurable) added resulting in the likelihood of such behavior to increase.

Negative Reinforcer: Any stimulus (usually aversive) removed resulting in the likelihood that the behavior will increase.

Punishment: Consequences (punishers) that decrease the likelihood of the target behavior.

Positive Punisher: Any stimulus (usually aversive) added resulting in the likelihood of the target behavior to decrease. One notable example of a positive punisher is a physically aversive stimulus, such as spanking or electric shocks, which have been—for the most part—abolished throughout schools for decades. This is the direct result of attempts made since the mid-1980s to move away from implementing aversive consequences through the use of schoolwide positive behavior support (PBS) systems in schools nationwide. With that said, only one residential school in Massachusetts still continued to administer electric shocks, which had been the subject of quite controversy, including several news castings and even a federal investigation ordered by President Obama in 2011 after a Anderson Cooper special on CNN depicted unqualified staff using them on a student for basic noncompliance before the practice was permanently banned by the FDA in 2020.

Negative Punisher: Any stimulus (usually pleasurable) removed resulting in the likelihood that the behavior will decrease.

Extinction: Respondent extinction involves the reflex (unconditioned response or UR; i.e., salvation) being faded out as a result of augmenting the conditioned stimulus (CS; i.e, cash) while discontinuing the unconditioned stimulus (US; i.e., food). In operant conditioning, extinction is the process by which all reinforcement becomes discontinued; when used with children, this is often accomplished by ignoring.

Shaping: The process in which positive reinforcement is provided each time after the organism (for example, a child) performs a new skill (i.e., speech) until it is fully mastered.

Habituation: Based on respondent conditioning, it is a behavior therapy technique that involves repeated exposure to a particular stimulus to diminish—or, in many cases, fully eliminate—a maladaptive behavior or response. Habituation is the hallmark technique used in desensitization.

Replacement Behavior: Introducing a more adaptive response that fulfills the same function as the aberrant behavior. Six notable procedures used to establish such functionally equivalent replacement behaviors (FERBs) include task modification, environmental enrichment, intermittent reinforcement, differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA), differential reinforcement of other behaviors (DRO), and counterconditioning.

Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA): The process in which "the undesirable behavior is placed on extinction while [only] the alternative reinforced" (Pierce & Cheney, 2013, p. 477). One instance of DRA is functional communication training (FCT).

Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviors (DRO): A procedure involving the use of extinction following each occurrence of the aberrant behavior; all "other behaviors [are] reinforced" (Pierce & Cheney, 2013, p. 477).

Functional Communication Training (FCT): A DRA procedure in which the learner with autism or another disability has to use their words or some other functionally equivalent form of communication. For instance, if the child does not speak and is having a tantrum, the therapist won't draw any attention to their tantrum and only acknowledge the child if he or she points to what they want when using the picture exchange communication system (PECS) board.

Counterconditioning: A behavioral therapy technique that consists of replacing a maladaptive with an incompatible response to the same stimulus; it comes in two distinct forms: covert and overt conditioning. Mindfulness is one instance of counterconditioning used in such counseling therapies as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Other counterconditioning techniques include breathing and meditation which are often incorporated into systematic desensitization.

Data Collection: The process of collecting data on specific dimensions of behavior.

Preference Assessment: An assessment procedure that is conducted to precisely determine the reinforcer motivating to the animal or person. Various examples in which preference assessments are frequently used include applied animal behavior, motivational incentives (including voucher and prize-based) for drug abuse, contact desensitization for phobias, schoolwide positive behavior support (SWPBS), pediatric feeding therapy, and early intensive behavior intervention (EIBI) for autism.

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): An assessment procedure based on functional analysis that is implemented to analyze and evaluate the function of overt behavior (as private events cannot be precisely measured); precedes a behavior intervention plan (BIP).

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): A plan conducted after an FBA to outline an intervention that will measurably change behavior. Also known as behavior management plan, or behavior support plan (BSP).

Applied Animal Behavior (AAB): The application of behavior analysis (ABA) to assess and change animal behavior, such as to train canines or pigeons.

Behavioral Neuroscience: The process of "integrating the science of behavior (behavior analysis) with the science of the brain (neuroscience)" (Pierce & Cheney, 2013, p. 471), which serves as the basis for studying "the effects of drugs on behavior (behavioral pharmacology), neural imaging and complex stimulus relations, choice and neural activity, and the brain circuitry of learning and addiction" (Pierce & Cheney, 2013, p. 471).

Behavioral Medicine: "Behavior-change programs that target health-related activities, such as following special diets, disease [prevention strategies], [engaging in] exercise, taking medication [regularly], and so on" (Pierce & Cheney, 2013, p. 471). Related terms include behavioral pharmacology, behavioral gerontology, and behavioral pediatrics (such as pediatric feeding therapy).

Behavioral Pharmacology: The field of study concerned with identifying the contingent relationship between behavior and pharmacological products, used in such incidences as nicotine replacement therapy for those who smoke cigarettes.

Behavioral Pediatrics: An area of research that fuses two distinct scientific disciplines: applied behavior analysis and pediatrics, serving as the basis for, i.e., pediatric feeding therapy.

Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU): Not to be confused with Behavior Analysis, it is a division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that focuses on studying criminal (or forensic) behavior. When studying criminal behavior from a behavior analytic perspective, see Forensic Behavior Analysis.

Forensic Behavior Analysis: A sub-discipline of ABA that involves the study of criminal behavior (criminology) and law (forensic psychology) in relation to its behavior-environment interactions, particularly behavior learning principles and behavioral neuroscience. To precisely measure forensic behavior, practitioners will often implement a behavioral forensic assessment, one form of functional behavior assessment (FBA).

Consumer Behavior Analysis: A subfield of ABA that involves the application of behavioral economics—or the theory of supply and demand—to the purchasing choices of human consumers. Such purchasing choices are influenced by contingent marketing tactics.

Organizational Behavior Management (OBM): The application of behavior analysis (ABA) to the management of organizations. OBM involves the following processes and procedures: system analysis, modeling, behavior-based safety, performance management, and positive reinforcement (contingency management).

Positive Behavior Support (PBS): Also referred to as positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS). An evidence-based application of behavior analysis (ABA) that uses contingency management procedures with children and adolescents and include three basic processes: prevent (A), teach (B), and reinforce (C). Based on a functional analysis of the three-term operant contingency (A-B-C), it begins with the use of data collection, a functional behavior assessment (FBA), and behavior intervention plan (BIP). PBS emphasizes using positive reinforcement procedures over verbal and physical aversives, and it entails forming a support system between families and child care professionals. It is sometimes implemented in juvenile detention centers, and even the child's home. For its use in a school or classroom setting, see schoolwide positive behavior support (SWPBS).

Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS): A commonly used form of PBS that manages students' disruptive or aggressive behavior in the classroom and other environments for which students are exposed throughout each school day, such as the outdoor playground. SWPBS initially consists of conducting a task analysis of the BIP before implementing either of the following procedures: task (or curricular) modifications, choice of activity, environmental enrichment (or supports), self-management, as well as differential reinforcement contingencies.

Direct Instruction (DI): Based on applied behavior analysis and the three-term operant contingency, it is a classroom instructional procedure employed by school teachers and college professors.

Precision Teaching: Also known as Fluency-Based Instruction (FBI). Devised by Ogden Lindsley, it is a form of ABA and relies on the three-term operant contingency. Precision Teaching is used for both individualized and classroom-based instruction.

Verbal Behavior (VB): A technique devised by Skinner consisting of four basic verbal operants. While mands refer to making a verbal requestor command for something, tacts are stimulus-to-stimulus pairing procedures in which the individual has direct contact with—or, in other words, labels—something in the environment. Echoics are verbal operants in which someone repeats another person's word or phrase, and intraverbals refer to answering someone else's question. Further, if imitative modeling—including gestural and oral motor imitation—were classified as a verbal operant, it would technically be called a "mimetic" (see Vargas, 1982). Verbal operants are highly effective when used to teach children with autism. For its use in clinical behavior analysis (CBA) therapies and consumer behavior analysis, see relational frame theory (RFT).

Oral Motor Imitation: The process of imitating oral motor exercises often acquired through tactile prompts and positive reinforcement; these manual (or physical) prompts are added to shape proper vocalizations and speech sounds (phonetics). For the children with autism who do not respond correctly to echoic (vocal imitation) training alone, highly-trained behavior analysts (i.e., see Lovaas, 1977) will often incorporate such prompts into a discrete trial teaching (DTT), or early intensive behavior intervention (EIBI) program. When based on a speech therapy framework, see PROMPT therapy.

PROMPT Therapy: Abbreviation for prompts for restructuring oral muscular phonetic targets. Also called the touch cue method (TCM), it is a highly effective speech therapy consisting of techniques to restructure oral muscular phonetic targets and employing behavioral learning principles to maintain gains. Often used by speech pathologists for children with a speech sound (phonological) disorder, the approach relies on oral motor imitation and incorporates tactile prompts—or touch cues—to the neck, lips, tongue, and jaw that is rehearsed through mass practice and shaping.

Early Intensive Behavior Intervention (EIBI): Also referred to as intensive behavior intervention. Developed by Ivar Lovaas and colleagues, it is a collection of structured and naturalistic ABA-based teaching interventions used for children with autism who have receptive language delays—or those who otherwise get distracted from their natural environmentunder the age of 5 and implemented at intensity of 30 to 40 hours per week. EIBI consists of instructional strategies proven to help them establish eye contact, as well as acquire spoken language, improve their IQ scores and adaptive functioning (or daily living skills), replace maladaptive behaviors with more functional ones, and also covering a wide array of other academic targets. It mainly relies on discrete trial teaching (DTT) procedures, which involve one-to-one instruction between the teacher and student at a table before being used in conjunction with incidental teaching to generalize new skills in the natural environment. Also see errorless learning, rapid motor imitation antecedent (RMIA), and natural environment training (NET).

Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT): Also called discrete trial training or instruction (DTI). A structured EIBI procedure which consists of repeated and structured techniques of teaching by systematically breaking tasks down and using positive reinforcement strategies to acquire new skills. DTT is the simple application of the three-term operant contingency, following three steps: the discriminative stimulus (Sd), or the therapist's instruction; the behavior, or more specifically, the child's response (R); and the consequence, particularly the stimulus reinforcer (Sr). Related terms include mass trials, listener responding, errorless learning, and rapid motor imitation antecedent (RMIA).

Errorless Learning: A form of DTT that is often used in the beginning of an EIBI program to prevent 'errors' from occurring. Errorless teaching procedures rely on high forms of prompting followed by less prompts and eventually prompt fading to ensure that prompting is not being relied on. For instance, when teaching the child with autism to respond to their name, it will involve the following steps: 1) the therapist's instruction "Look at me" (Sd) while holding a favorable item (i.e., M&M or cookie) between their eyes and by the top of their nose; 2) the visual prompt (MO), or moving the item gradually toward the child's eyes and back to the therapist's; 3) the child's response (R), which is establishing eye contact with the therapist; and 4) the consequence (Sr), referring to the therapist's verbal praise, "Nice looking!" before giving the item to the child. Another example of errorless learning is outlined in rapid motor imitation antecedent (RMIA).

Rapid Motor Imitation Antecedent (RMIA): Also referred to as rapid motor imitation (RMI). A commonly used form of DTT that consists of the child imitating a wide array of fine and gross motor exercises (i.e., waving bye-bye, clapping hands, touching nose, stomping feet, tapping table, etc.) in response to the therapist's instruction—antecedent (or Sd), "Do this." Manual (physical) prompts are typically incorporated in the beginning until the child has acquired stimulus control. Once this occurs, such prompts are faded out, and RMIA concludes with echoic (vocal imitation) and tact (expressive label) training.

Natural Environment Training (NET): Also called enhanced milieu teaching (EMT). Refers to ABA instructional procedures used to teach new skills through play-based, child-led activities in a natural setting. For example, if the child is to verbally request—or mand—for an item while outside playing or at the dinner table, it has to be child-initiated. This item also must be something that the particular child finds motivating. When implemented as part of an EIBI program, it is called incidental teaching. Related terms include pivotal response treatment (PRT), social responsivity (also referred to as reciprocal imitation training), and naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions (NDBIs).

Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT): Formerly known as the natural language paradigm (NLP). Derived from the science of ABA and implemented for 25 hours per week, it was developed by Robert and Lynn Koegel as a naturalistic, play-based teaching procedure for children with autism who have expressive language delays. The goal of PRT is to foster pivotal areas of motivation, including self-management, responsivity to multiple cues, expressive language (mand training), and social initiations.

Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions (NDBIs): A category of early interventions that combine developmental social-pragmatic (DSP) with behavior analytic approaches; these include social responsivity, JASPER (joint attention, symbolic play, engagement, and regulation), and the early start denver model (ESDM), the latter of which infuses the denver model as the primary teaching unit along with pivotal response treatment (PRT).

Social Responsivity: Also called reciprocal imitation training (RIT). A form of NDBI, which involves using the child's interests and lead into play (i.e., singing a song, playing with a doll or toy car, etc.) as natural reinforcers for relationship-building in the natural environment. To establish eye contact, the practitioner might engage the child by playing peek-a-boo or tickling him or her.

Mentalism: The philosophy that thoughts and feelings cause observable physical behavior, and serves as the viewpoint behind cognitive psychology (particularly, cognitive therapy or CT) and psychoanalysis.

Cognitive Behaviorism: Also referred to as Purposive Behaviorism. A term coined in the research literature that refers to infusing the disciplines of cognitive psychology with behaviorism (particularly, respondent and operant conditioning) and the viewpoint behind the vast of the cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBTs)—to the exclusion of cognitive therapy (CT).

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): An array of scientifically proven cognitive and/or behavioral interventions used in clinical treatment, including cognitive therapy (CT) and interventions based on cognitive behaviorism, such as rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), habit reversal training, and exposure therapies (desensitization). Cognitive-behavioral therapists will initially assess and then change the client's thoughts and feelings through cognitive restructuring, but later—depending on the therapy—alter the physical environment by incorporating behavioral learning principles. Contrast to clinical behavior analysis (CBA).

Cognitive Therapy (CT): A scientifically proven cognitive intervention used in psychotherapy (or counseling) that consists of cognitive restructuring. Based on mentalism and cognitive psychology, thoughts and feelings are viewed as the antecedents that cause overt physical behavior. Therefore, cognitive therapists focus mainly on assessing (through cognitive-behavioral assessments) and later changing thoughts and feelings.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): A cognitive-behavioral therapy devised by Marsha M. Linehan that is well-established for altering the suicidal thoughts and self-injurious behaviors of those with borderline (emotionally unstable) personality disorder (BPD). Psychotherapists also find it beneficial for the treatment of substance abuse, as well as eating and mood disorders (such as bipolar disorder—also called manic depression). DBT consists of the following six principles: chain analysis, cognitive restructuring, emotional and interpersonal regulation, mindfulness, distress tolerance, and positive reinforcement (contingency management).

Clinical Behavior Analysis (CBA): An array of empirically validated clinical therapy applications of behavior analysis (ABA). CBA encompasses voucher-based (or prize-based) contingency management, community reinforcement approach and family training (CRAFT), nicotine replacement therapy, pediatric feeding therapy, behavioral gerontology, habit reversal training (HRT), exposure therapies (desensitization), and counseling interventions based on relational frame theory (RFT), such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and functional analytic psychotherapy (FAP). For the treatment of counseling, the behavior analyst will first assess and change the client’s motor behavior by manipulating the physical environment through behavior learning principles before altering more covert forms of behavior as well (i.e., by later incorporating covert counterconditioning techniques such as mindfulness). When used in the treatment of drug abuse, see motivational incentives.

Motivational Incentives: The techniques used in the voucher-based (or prized-based) contingency management of drug abuse in which patients typically receive vouchers (money) or other incentives (i.e., prizes) to motivate them to stop taking drugs.

Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT): A clinical behavior analytic (CBA) intervention that applies contingency management procedures to reinforce sobriety in those suffering from alcoholism where family members are trained to encourage them to enter treatment. Patients then undergo lifestyles changes through contingency contracting and relapse prevention strategies, as well as relaxation training and athletic exercise, so that they avoid temptations of consuming alcoholic beverages while out in the community, especially as the client interacts with their family, friends, and business colleagues.

Relational Frame Theory (RFT): Refers to the extension of stimulus equivalent research to cognition and language, sometimes used to teach executive functioning and social cognition (also known as Theory of Mind).

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): Based on the pioneering work of Steven C. Hayes, ACT is a clinical application of behavior analysis (CBA) used, i.e., to enhance diet and exercise for those who are obese, to managing anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), tics, and sexual abuse. It incorporates the following four procedures: acceptance and commitment, value-based living, mindfulness, cognitive defusion, and positive reinforcement (contingency management).

Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP): Derived from applied behavior analytic (ABA) principles used in psychotherapy for a wide array of situations, ranging from individuals battling with alcoholism and depression to marriage counseling. It initially involves a functional analysis of the client's target behavior and then employs the A-C-L model: awareness, courage, and love, a step-by-step process accomplished through shaping.

Behavioral Activation (BA): A form of FAP used in the treatment of depression.

Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy: A form of FAP used in the treatment of marriage counseling. Also called traditional behavioral marital therapy.

Habit Reversal Training (HRT): A counterconditioning procedure used to break various habits, such as tics and trichotillomania, a disorder of impulsive hair pulling. It consists of six principles: awareness training, competing response training, self-monitoring, social support, generalization training, and positive reinforcement (contingency management).

Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT): A form of HRT used to decrease the occurrence of tics. In this procedure, every time the individual has the urge to tic, they are redirected in performing a new activity that fulfills the same purpose.

Pediatric Feeding Therapy: A clinical behavior analytic (CBA) therapy used in the treatment of pediatric feeding disorders. It encompasses the following set of procedures: biting acceptance, differential reinforcement contingencies, reclined seating, and the use of a chin prompt feeder and liquid chaser.

Behavioral Gerontology: Refers to behavior analytic research on people who are aging as well as the design of treatments implemented to assist them.

Social Skills Training: A behavioral technique used to help people with social concerns, ranging from autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to major depressive disorder (MDD), establish friendships with their peers. For the treatment of mild ASD, the goal is to teach perspective taking; how to reciprocate non-verbal, social cues; and to paraphrase when engaging in, or even initiating and maintaining a conversation with others.

Desensitization: Also called exposure therapy, it is based on the behavior principle of habituation. Related terms include flooding (also called direct exposure therapy, or DET), exposure and response prevention (ERP), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), and systematic desensitization.

Systematic Desensitization: Also known as graduated exposure therapy. An exposure therapy used to combat specific phobias, requiring the client to gradually expose themselves to that fear while often undergoing the following counterconditoning techniques: breathing and meditation. When infused with shaping, it is called contact desensitization.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA): An individual who received national certification by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) and either practices and/or conducts research in behavior analysis when working with people. Some states provide licenser laws for BCBAs.

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB): Someone who received a certification in applied animal behavior (AAB). They either practice and/or conduct research in the field of animal training that is firmly grounded in the science of applied behavior analysis.


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Almost 45 years ago, Baer et al. (1968) described a new discipline—applied behavior analysis (ABA). This discipline was distinguished from the experimental analysis of behavior by its focus on social impact (i.e., solving socially important problems...). ABA has produced remarkably powerful interventions in fields such as education, developmental disabilities and autism, clinical psychology, behavioral medicine, organizational behavior management, and a host of other fields and populations...

— Timothy A. Slocum et al., 2014 in The Behavior Analyst

Organizational behavior management (OBM) is a sub-discipline of ABA, which is the application of the science of behavior. ABA emphasizes the use of operant and respondent procedures to produce behavior change. Behavior analysis as a science has very explicit goals. Prediction and control of behavior, with an emphasis on control, are the objectives of behavior analysis (Hayes & Brownstein, 1986).

— OBM Network, the official website for the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (JOBM)

Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) is a treatment approach that is based upon the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and the research of Ivar Lovaas and colleagues at the UCLA Young Autism Project... Influenced by theories of learning and motivation, practitioners of EIBI refer to it as "the science of teaching."

— Susan Hepburn on Springer Link

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