Hello, TDLC family! I know that many of you read and enjoyed our 4-part blog series on the basics of ABA, found here. Over the course of the next few blogs, we’re going to take those basic ideas and expand on them, giving you insight into some of the more difficult concepts in ABA!
n order to do that, let’s go back – waaaay back – and talk about what behavior analysis is. The definition of behavior analysis is:
The study of behavior and the variables that influence behavior.
For the most part, behavior analysis focuses on human or animal behavior and learning, and for our purposes, we’ll just talk about humans. So, what do we mean by “behavior”, or “learning”?
Behavior: Everything a person does, including covert behavior (ie. thinking, feeling)
Learning: The acquisition, maintenance, and change of a person’s behavior due to lifetime events
What makes behavior analysis so different? Philosophers have been studying behavior and learning for thousands of years, and psychologists joined in during the last century or so. However, in the past, behaviors were explained by everything from the alignment of the planets to personality types. The problem with those explanations is that they are not empirical, and in some cases, not testable at all. In contrast to the earlier beliefs, a modern behavior analyst would say that behavior is a function of 3 things:
- The individual’s physiology
- The individual’s history of reinforcement
- Current environmental contingencies
For example, if a child were having a tantrum, the mentalistic point of view would say:
The child is strong-willed and wants to exert control.
But a behaviorist would say:
In the past, the child has been able to escape performing chores by yelling and crying (tantruming). This tantrum behavior is escape maintained.
With mentalism, the focus is on the internal, unknowable events. Whether or not the child is strong-willed or desires to exert control is difficult to measure, especially if the child lacks communication skills. We cannot observe these characteristics, only the behaviors they (supposedly) produce.
Behavior analysis defines behavior in terms of directly observable events. The environment at the time of the event is taken into consideration, as well as the child’s history of reinforcement. The behavior itself is the focus, and is directly observable and testable.
Learning will be said to have taken place when behavior has changed, usually as a result of reinforcement, punishment, or extinction procedures. Stay tuned for our next few blogs, where we will take a closer look at these concepts!