Applied behavior analysis

Applied behavior analysis (ABA), also called behavioral engineering,[1][2] is a psychological intervention that applies approaches based upon the principles of respondent and operant conditioning to change behavior of social significance.[3][4] It is the applied form of behavior analysis; the other two forms are radical behaviorism (or the philosophy of the science) and the experimental analysis of behavior (or basic experimental research).[3]

The name applied behavior analysis has replaced behavior modification because the latter approach suggested attempting to change behavior without clarifying the relevant behavior-environment interactions. In contrast, ABA changes behavior by first assessing the functional relationship between a targeted behavior and the environment.[5][6][7] Further, the approach often seeks to develop socially acceptable alternatives for aberrant behaviors.[7]

Although service delivery providers overwhelmingly practice structured and naturalistic early behavioral interventions for individuals with autism,[8] ABA has also been utilized in a range of other areas.[9][10][11][12]

ABA is considered controversial within the autism rights movement due to a perception that it emphasizes normalization instead of acceptance, and a history of, in some forms of ABA and its predecessors, the use of aversives, such as electric shocks.[13][14][15]

Definition edit

ABA is an applied science devoted to developing procedures which will produce observable changes in behavior.[3] It is to be distinguished from the experimental analysis of behavior, which focuses on basic experimental research,[9] but it uses principles developed by such research, in particular operant conditioning and classical conditioning. Behavior analysis adopts the viewpoint of radical behaviorism, treating thoughts, emotions, and other covert activity as behavior that is subject to the same rules as overt responses. This represents a shift away from methodological behaviorism, which restricts behavior-change procedures to behaviors that are overt, and was the conceptual underpinning of behavior modification.

Behavior analysts also emphasize that the science of behavior must be a natural science as opposed to a social science.[16] As such, behavior analysts focus on the observable relationship of behavior with the environment, including antecedents and consequences, without resort to "hypothetical constructs".[17]

History edit

The beginnings of ABA can be traced back to Teodoro Ayllon and Jack Michael's study "The psychiatric nurse as a behavioral engineer" (1959) that they published in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB). Ayllon and Michael were training the staff at a psychiatric hospital how to use a token economy based on the principles of operant conditioning for patients with schizophrenia and intellectual disability,[2] which led to researchers at the University of Kansas to start the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) in 1968.[18][19]

A group of researchers at the University of Washington, including Donald Baer, Sidney W. Bijou, Bill Hopkins, Jay Birnbrauer, Todd Risley, and Montrose Wolf,[20][21] applied the principles of behavior analysis to manage the behavior of children and adolescents in juvenile detention centers and organize employees who required proper structure and management in businesses. In 1968, Baer, Bijou, Risley, Birnbrauer, Wolf, and James Sherman joined the Department of Human Development and Family Life at the University of Kansas, where they founded the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.[22]

Notable graduate students from the University of Washington include Robert Wahler, James Sherman, and Ivar Lovaas.[18][22] Lovaas established the UCLA Young Autism Project while teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1965, Lovaas published a series of articles that described a pioneering investigation of the antecedents and consequences that maintained a problem behavior,[23] and relied on the methods of errorless learning which was initially used by Charles Ferster to teach nonverbal children to speak. Lovaas also described how to use social (secondary) reinforcers, teach children to imitate, and what interventions (including electric shocks) may be used to reduce aggression and life-threatening self-injury.[23][24]

In 1987, Lovaas published the study, "Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children".[18] The experimental group in this study received an average of 40 hours per week in a 1:1 teaching setting at a table using errorless discrete trial training (DTT).[25] The treatment is done at home with parents involved, and the curriculum is highly individualized with a heavy emphasis on teaching eye contact, fine and gross motor imitation, and language. The use of aversives and reinforcement were used to motivate learning and reduce non-desired behaviors.[18] Early development of the therapy in the 1960s involved use of shocks and the withholding of food.[26] By the time children were enrolled in this study, such aversives were abandoned, and a loud "no" or a slap to the thigh were used only as a last resort to reduce aggressive and self-stimulatory behaviors. The outcome of this study indicated 47% of the experimental group (9/19) went on to lose their autism diagnosis and were described as indistinguishable from their typical adolescent peers. This included passing education without assistance and forming and maintaining friendships. These gains were maintained as reported in the 1993 study, "Long-term outcome for children with autism who received early intensive behavioral treatment". Lovaas' work went on to be recognized by the US Surgeon General in 1999, and his research were replicated in university and private settings.[27][28] The "Lovaas Method" went on to become known as early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI).

Over the years, "behavior analysis" gradually superseded "behavior modification"; that is, from simply trying to alter problematic behavior, behavior analysts sought to understand the function of that behavior, what reinforcement histories (i.e., attention seeking, escape, sensory stimulation, etc.) promote and maintain it, and how it can be replaced by successful behavior.[7] This analysis is based on careful initial assessment of a behavior's function and a testing of methods that produce changes in behavior.

While ABA seems to be intrinsically linked to autism intervention, it is also used in a broad range of other situations. Recent notable areas of research in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis include autism,[11] classroom instruction with typically developing students, pediatric feeding therapy,[10][11][29] and substance use disorders.[10][11] Other applications of ABA include applied animal behavior, consumer behavior analysis, forensic behavior analysis, behavioral medicine, behavioral neuroscience, clinical behavior analysis,[10][11] organizational behavior management,[10][11] schoolwide positive behavior support,[10][30][31][32] and contact desensitization for phobias.

Characteristics edit

 
7 Characteristics of ABA

Baer, Wolf, and Risley's 1968 article[33] is still used as the standard description of ABA.[19][34] It lists the following seven characteristics of ABA. Another resource for the characteristics of applied behavior analysis is the textbook Behavior Modification: Principles and Procedures.[35]

  • Applied: ABA focuses on the social significance of the behavior studied. For example, a non-applied researcher may study eating behavior because this research helps to clarify metabolic processes, whereas the applied researcher may study eating behavior in individuals who eat too little or too much, trying to change such behavior so that it is more acceptable to the persons involved. It is also based on trying to improve the everyday life of clients that are receiving it.
  • Behavioral: ABA is pragmatic; it asks how it is possible to get an individual to do something effectively. To answer this question, the behavior itself must be objectively measurable and observable. This is designed so that when someone is trying to determine a target behavior, it is able to be observed and understood by anyone. Verbal descriptions are treated as behavior in themselves, and not as substitutes for the behavior described.
  • Analytic: Behavior analysis is successful when the analyst understands and can manipulate the events that control a target behavior. This may be relatively easy to do in the lab, where a researcher is able to arrange the relevant events, but it is not always easy, or ethical, in an applied situation.[33] In order to consider something to fall under the spectrum of analytic, it must demonstrate a functional relationship and it must be provable. Baer et al. outline two methods that may be used in applied settings to demonstrate control while maintaining ethical standards. These are the reversal design and the multiple baseline design. In the reversal design, the experimenter first measures the behavior of choice, introduces an intervention, and then measures the behavior again. Then, the intervention is removed, or reduced, and the behavior is measured yet again. The intervention is effective to the extent that the behavior changes and then changes back in response to these manipulations. The multiple baseline method may be used for behaviors that seem irreversible. Here, several behaviors are measured and then the intervention is applied to each in turn. The effectiveness of the intervention is revealed by changes in just the behavior to which the intervention is being applied.
  • Technological: The description of analytic research must be clear and detailed, so that any competent researcher can repeat it accurately.[33] The goal is to make sure that anyone can implement and understand what is being explained. Cooper et al. describe a good way to check this: Have a person trained in applied behavior analysis read the description and then act out the procedure in detail. If the person makes any mistakes or has to ask any questions then the description needs improvement.[19][36]
  • Conceptually Systematic: Behavior analysis should not simply produce a list of effective interventions. Rather, to the extent possible, these methods should be grounded in the principles of applied behavioral analysis. This is aided by the use of theoretically meaningful terms, such as "secondary reinforcement" or "errorless discrimination" where appropriate.
  • Effective: Though analytic methods should be theoretically grounded, they must be effective. Interventions also must be relevant to the client and/or culture. An analyst must ask themselves if the intervention is working. The intervention must also contain a positive change. If an intervention does not produce a large enough effect for practical use, then the analysis has failed
  • Generality: Behavior analysts should aim for interventions that are generally applicable; the methods should work in different environments, apply to more than one specific behavior, and have long-lasting effects. This generalizability should be implemented from the very beginning of the intervention. When first starting a new intervention, it is a good idea for that to take place in a natural environment for the client.

Other proposed characteristics edit

In 2005, Heward et al. suggested the addition of the following five characteristics:[37]

  • Accountable: To be accountable means that ABA must be able to demonstrate that its methods are effective. This requires the repeatedly measuring the effect of interventions (success, failure or no effect at all), and, if necessary, making changes that improve their effectiveness.[38]
  • Public: The methods, results, and theoretical analyses of ABA must be published and open to scrutiny. There are no hidden treatments or mystical, metaphysical explanations.
  • Doable: To be generally useful, interventions should be available to a variety of individuals, who might be teachers, parents, therapists, or even those who wish to modify their own behavior. With proper planning and training, many interventions can be applied by almost anyone willing to invest the effort.[37]: 205 
  • Empowering: ABA provides tools that give the practitioner feedback on the results of interventions. These allow clinicians to assess their skill level and build confidence in their effectiveness.[39]
  • Optimistic: According to several leading authors[who?], behavior analysts have cause to be optimistic that their efforts are socially worthwhile, for the following reasons:
    • The behaviors impacted by behavior analysis are largely determined by learning and controlled by manipulable aspects of the environment.
    • Practitioners can improve performance by direct and continuous measurements.
    • As a practitioner uses behavioral techniques with positive outcomes, they become more confident of future success.
    • The literature provides many examples of success in teaching individuals considered previously unteachable.

Use as therapy for autism edit

Although BCBA certification does not require any autism training,[40] a large majority of ABA practitioners specialise in autism,[8] and ABA itself is often mistakenly considered synonymous with therapy for autism.[9] Practitioners often use ABA-based techniques to teach adaptive behaviors to,[41] or diminish challenging behaviors presented by,[42] individuals with autism.

Despite many years of research indicating that early intensive behavioral intervention—the traditional form of ABA that relies on discrete trial training—improves the intellectual performance of those with ASD,[43][44][42][45] most of these studies lack random assignment and there is need for larger sample sizes.[46][26][47] A 2018 Cochrane review of five controlled trials found weak evidence indicating that ABA may be effective for some autistic children, noting a high risk of bias in the studies included in the review.[46] The effectiveness of ABA therapies for autism may be overall limited by diagnostic severity, age of intervention, and IQ.[48][49]

In 2018, a Cochrane meta-analysis database concluded that some recent research is beginning to suggest that because of the heterology of ASD, there are two different ABA teaching approaches to acquiring spoken language: children with higher receptive language skills respond to 2.5 - 20 hours per week of the naturalistic approach, whereas children with lower receptive language skills require 25 hours per week of discrete trial training—the structured and intensive form of ABA.[50] A 2023 multi-site randomized control trial study of 168 participants showed similar findings.[51]

Quality of evidence edit

Conflicts of interest, methodological concerns, and a high risk of bias pervade most ABA studies.[52][46] A 2019 meta-analysis noted that "methodological rigor remains a pressing concern" in research into ABA's use as therapy for autism; while the authors found some evidence in favour of behavioral interventions, the effects disappeared when they limited the scope of their review to randomized controlled trial designs and outcomes for which there was no risk of detection bias.[47]

One study revealed extensive undisclosed conflicts of interest (COI) in published ABA studies. 84% of studies published in top behavioral journals over a period of one year had at least one author with a COI involving their employment, either as an ABA clinical provider or a training consultant to ABA clinical providers. However, only 2% of these studies disclosed the COI.[52]

Low-quality evidence is likewise a concern in some research reporting on the potential harms of ABA on autistic children.[53]

Another concern is that ABA research only measures behavior as a means of success, which has led to a lack of qualitative research about autistic experiences of ABA, a lack of research examining the internal effects of ABA and a lack of research for autistic children who are non-speaking or have comorbid intellectual disabilities (which is concerning considering this is one of the major populations that intensive ABA focuses on).[13][40][48][49] Research is also lacking about whether ABA is effective long-term and very little longitudinal outcomes have been studied.[40]

Ethical concerns edit

Researchers and advocates have denounced the ABA ethical code as too lenient, citing its failure to restrict or clarify the use of aversives, the absence of an autism or child development education requirement for ABA therapists, and its emphasis on parental consent rather than the consent of the person receiving services.[40][54] This emphasis on parental consent stems from ABA viewing the parent as the client, a stance which has been criticized for centering benefits to the parent, not the child, in behavioral interventions.[54] Numerous researchers have argued that ABA is abusive and can increase symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in patients.[13][40][54][55][56][57] Some bioethicists argue that employing ABA violates the principles of justice and nonmaleficence and infringes on the autonomy of both autistic children and their parents.[54]

Two studies surveying autistic adults who went through ABA as children found that most participants perceived ABA to have a detrimental impact on their lives, although in common with most ABA research, the studies had methodological concerns and a risk of bias.[53] Two 2020 reviews found that very few studies directly reported on or investigated possible harms; although a significant number of studies mentioned adverse events in their analysis of why people withdrew from them, there was no effort to monitor or collect data on adverse outcomes.[58][59][60]

Justin B. Leaf and others examined and responded to several of these criticisms of ABA in three papers published in 2018, 2019, and 2022, respectively,[61][62][63] in which they questioned the evidence for such criticisms, concluding that the claim that all ABA is abusive has no basis in the published literature. Others have published similar responses.[64]

Use of aversives edit

Lovaas incorporated aversives into some of the ABA practices he developed, including employing electric shocks, slapping, and shouting to modify undesirable behavior.[citation needed] Although the use of aversives in ABA became less common over time, and in 2012 their use was described as inconsistent with contemporary practice,[65] aversives persisted in some ABA programs. In comments made in 2014 to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a clinician previously employed by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center claimed that "all textbooks used for thorough training of applied behavior analysts include an overview of the principles of punishment, including the use of electrical brain stimulation."[66]

Early studies on gay conversion therapy edit

In 1974, Lovaas co-authored a study with George Rekers, who ran a gay conversion therapy clinic at UCLA, on The Feminine Boy project, which used early behavior modification techniques to target boys' gender identities.[67] Critics have drawn parallels between gay conversion therapy and Lovaas' argument that ABA makes "autistic children indistinguishable from their normal friends."[67] Social worker and researcher Jake Pyne has argued that ableism is the reason ABA continues to be practiced in some jurisdictions where conversion therapy is prohibited, despite the underlying similarities.[68] The Association for Behavior Analysis International has denounced gay conversion therapy,[69] and lecturers in the field of behavior analysis have called such comparisons harmful to both the autistic community and the LBGTIQA+ community.[70]

Views of the autistic community edit

Proponents of neurodiversity dispute the value of eliminating autistic behaviors, maintaining that it forces autistic people to mask their true personalities and conform to a narrow conception of normality.[71] Masking is associated with suicidality and poor long-term mental health.[72][73] Some autistic advocates contend that it is cruel to try to make autistic people behave as if they were non-autistic without consideration for their well-being, criticizing ABA's framing of autism as a tragedy in need of treatment.[74] Instead, these critics advocate for increased social acceptance of harmless autistic traits and therapies focused on improving quality of life.[75] The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, for example, campaigns against the use of ABA in autism.[76][77]

A 2020 study examined perspectives of autistic adults that received ABA as children and found that the overwhelming majority reported that "behaviorist methods create painful lived experiences", that ABA led to the "erosion of the true actualizing self", and that they felt they had a "lack of self-agency within interpersonal experiences".[13]

In response to many of the criticisms towards ABA from members of the autistic community, some behavior analysts have referenced Damian Milton's theory of the double empathy problem, saying that behavior analysts are "just different" and "think differently from most other people", consequently feeling misunderstood and discriminated against by members of the autistic community.[78]

TEACCH edit

One more area of critique has been the "ideological warfare" surrounding ABA and TEACCH, despite the philosophies and practices of the two approaches not necessarily being in opposition.[79] The rhetoric surrounding ABA was criticized by the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, including parents and professionals that claim that ABA "cured" their child's autism, like one parent who "claims that ABA had saved her children's lives, likening it to chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer."[80]

Concepts edit

Behavior edit

Behavior refers to the movement of some part of an organism that changes some aspect of the environment.[81] Often, the term behavior refers to a class of responses that share physical dimensions or functions, and in that case a response is a single instance of that behavior.[19][82] If a group of responses have the same function, this group may be called a response class. Repertoire refers to the various responses available to an individual; the term may refer to responses that are relevant to a particular situation, or it may refer to everything a person can do.

Operant conditioning edit

Operant behavior is the so-called "voluntary" behavior that is sensitive to, or controlled by its consequences. Specifically, operant conditioning refers to the three-term contingency that uses stimulus control, in particular an antecedent contingency called the discriminative stimulus (SD) that influences the strengthening or weakening of behavior through such consequences as reinforcement or punishment.[83] The term is used quite generally, from reaching for a candy bar, to turning up the heat to escape an aversive chill, to studying for an exam to get good grades.

Respondent (classical) conditioning edit

Respondent (classical) conditioning is based on innate stimulus-response relationships called reflexes. In his experiments with dogs, Pavlov usually used the salivary reflex, namely salivation (unconditioned response) following the taste of food (unconditioned stimulus). Pairing a neutral stimulus, for example a bell (conditioned stimulus) with food caused the dog to elicit salivation (conditioned response). Thus, in classical conditioning, the conditioned stimulus becomes a signal for a biologically significant consequence. Note that in respondent conditioning, unlike operant conditioning, the response does not produce a reinforcer or punisher (e.g., the dog does not get food because it salivates).

Reinforcement edit

Reinforcement is the key element in operant conditioning[84] and in most behavior change programs.[85] It is the process by which behavior is strengthened. If a behavior is followed closely in time by a stimulus and this results in an increase in the future frequency of that behavior, then the stimulus is a positive reinforcer. If the removal of an event serves as a reinforcer, this is termed negative reinforcement.[86] There are multiple schedules of reinforcement that affect the future probability of behavior. "[H]e would get Beth to comply by hugging him and giving her food as a reward."[87]

Punishment edit

Punishment is a process by which a consequence immediately follows a behavior which decreases the future frequency of that behavior.[88] As with reinforcement, a stimulus can be added (positive punishment) or removed (negative punishment). Broadly, there are three types of punishment: presentation of aversive stimuli (e.g., pain), response cost (removal of desirable stimuli as in monetary fines), and restriction of freedom (as in a 'time out').[89] Punishment in practice can often result in unwanted side effects.[90] Some other potential unwanted effects include resentment over being punished, attempts to escape the punishment, expression of pain and negative emotions associated with it, and recognition by the punished individual between the punishment and the person delivering it. Someone who alleged that they had seen applied behavior analysis stated "he [the therapist] would use loud sounds of 100 decibels on two 5-year-old autistic twins."[87]

Extinction edit

Extinction is the technical term to describe the procedure of withholding/discontinuing reinforcement of a previously reinforced behavior, resulting in the decrease of that behavior.[91]: 102  The behavior is then set to be extinguished (Cooper et al.). Extinction procedures are often preferred over punishment procedures, as many punishment procedures are deemed unethical and in many states prohibited. Nonetheless, extinction procedures must be implemented with utmost care by professionals, as they are generally associated with extinction bursts. An extinction burst is the temporary increase in the frequency, intensity, and/or duration of the behavior targeted for extinction.[91]: 104  Other characteristics of an extinction burst include an extinction-produced aggression—the occurrence of an emotional response to an extinction procedure often manifested as aggression; and b) extinction-induced response variability—the occurrence of novel behaviors that did not typically occur prior to the extinction procedure. These novel behaviors are a core component of shaping procedures.

Discriminated operant and three-term contingency edit

In addition to a relation being made between behavior and its consequences, operant conditioning also establishes relations between antecedent conditions and behaviors. This differs from the S–R formulations (If-A-then-B), and replaces it with an AB-because-of-C formulation. In other words, the relation between a behavior (B) and its context (A) is because of consequences (C), more specifically, this relationship between AB because of C indicates that the relationship is established by prior consequences that have occurred in similar contexts.[92] This antecedent–behavior–consequence contingency is termed the three-term contingency. A behavior which occurs more frequently in the presence of an antecedent condition than in its absence is called a discriminated operant. The antecedent stimulus is called a discriminative stimulus (SD). The fact that the discriminated operant occurs only in the presence of the discriminative stimulus is an illustration of stimulus control.[93] More recently behavior analysts have been focusing on conditions that occur prior to the circumstances for the current behavior of concern that increased the likelihood of the behavior occurring or not occurring. These conditions have been referred to variously as "Setting Event", "Establishing Operations", and "Motivating Operations" by various researchers in their publications.

Verbal behavior edit

B. F. Skinner's classification system of behavior analysis has been applied to treatment of a host of communication disorders.[94] Skinner's system includes:

  • Tact – a verbal response evoked by a non-verbal antecedent and maintained by generalized conditioned reinforcement.
  • Mand – behavior under control of motivating operations maintained by a characteristic reinforcer.
  • Intraverbals – verbal behavior for which the relevant antecedent stimulus was other verbal behavior, but which does not share the response topography of that prior verbal stimulus (e.g., responding to another speaker's question).
  • Autoclitic – secondary verbal behavior which alters the effect of primary verbal behavior on the listener. Examples involve quantification, grammar, and qualifying statements (e.g., the differential effects of "I think..." vs. "I know...")

Skinner's use of behavioral techniques was famously critiqued by the linguist Noam Chomsky through an extensive breakdown of how Skinner's view of language as behavioral simply cannot explain the complexity of human language.[95] This suggests that while behaviorist techniques can teach language, it is a very poor measure to explain language fundamentals. Considering Chomsky's critiques, it may be more appropriate to teach language through a Speech language pathologist instead of a behaviorist.

For an assessment of verbal behavior from Skinner's system, see Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills.

Measuring behavior edit

When measuring behavior, there are both dimensions of behavior and quantifiable measures of behavior. In applied behavior analysis, the quantifiable measures are a derivative of the dimensions. These dimensions are repeatability, temporal extent, and temporal locus.[96]

Repeatability edit

Response classes occur repeatedly throughout time—i.e., how many times the behavior occurs.

  • Count is the number of occurrences in behavior.
  • Rate/frequency is the number of instances of behavior per unit of time.
  • Celeration is the measure of how the rate changes over time.

Temporal extent edit

In the ScienceDirect Review, The Socio-Temporal Brain: Connecting People in Time, this explores the ‘timing’ of temporal information that seeks out the rhythm and duration of the behavior.[97] Given the expressions of behavior, an emotional meaning is obtained through the duration in correspondence with body and vocal expressions. Using the striatal beat frequency (SBF) model, this highlights the essential role of the striatum’s timing that synchronizes cortical oscillations. At onset of the event, ventral tegmental inputs reset the cortical phase that initiates the timing. During the event, the oscillations are monitored by neurons which is an identifier of the unique phase patterns for different durations of behavior. And when finished, the striatum decodes the patterns to aid in memory storage and comparison of event durations. Researchers then have discovered socio-temporal processes that attach social meaning to time, allowing the social significance to impact the perception and timing of acts.

Temporal locus edit

Latency specifically measures the time that elapses between the event of a stimulus and the behavior that follows. This is important in behavioral research because it quantifies how quickly an individual may respond to external stimuli, providing insights into their perceptual and cognitive processing rates.[98] There are two measurements that are able to define temporal locus, they are response latency and interresponse time.

  • Response latency in children, when being treated with morphine they exhibit a longer time to the response latency in delayed matching of a simple task, and these children seem to have a harder time with social ability. This means that these children require more time to remember things when given the stimulus.[99]
  • Interresponse time refers to the duration of time that occurs between two instances of behavior, and it helps in understanding patterns and frequency of a certain behavior on a period of time.[98] Use of psychiatric medications may reduce the rate of response, but on the other hand lengthen the duration of interresponse time. The usage of these medications effectively reduces interest as the reaction declines as well.[100]

Derivative measures edit

Derivative measures are additional metrics derived from primary data, often by combining or transforming dimensional quantities to offer deeper insights into a phenomenon. Despite not being directly tied to specific dimensions, these measures provide valuable supplemental information. In applied behavior analysis (ABA), for example, percentage is a derivative measure that quantifies the ratio of specific responses to total responses, offering a nuanced understanding of behavior and assisting in evaluating progress and intervention effectiveness. Trials-to-criterion, another ABA derivative measure, tracks the number of response opportunities needed to achieve a set level of performance. This metric aids behavior analysts in assessing skill acquisition and mastery, influencing decisions on program adjustments and teaching methods. Applied behavior analysis relies on meticulous measurement and impartial evaluation of observable behavior as a foundational principle. Without accurate data collection and analysis, behavior analysts lack the essential information to assess intervention effectiveness and make informed decisions about program modifications. Therefore, precise measurement and assessment play a pivotal role in ABA practice, guiding practitioners to enhance behavioral outcomes and drive significant change.

Behavior analysts utilize a few distinct techniques to gather information. A portion of the ways of collect data information include:

Frequency edit

This technique refers to the times that an objective way of behaving was noticed and counted. [101]In the published article On Terms: Frequency and Rate in Applied Behavior Analysis, the authors state that two major texts, one being the Behavior Analyst Certification Board[102] pair the word "frequency" with two different words-- one text pairing with "count" and the other "rate". Despite one major text using the word "count" interchangeably with "frequency", both texts advise readers they should not be using counts of behavior without referencing the time base of the observation. Additionally, when given that context of advice, the count and time information provide data rate. The authors of this article suggest that when looking at applied behavior analysis (ABA) and accessing behavior measurement, you should be using the term "rate" instead of "count" to reference frequency. Any references to counts without information about observation time should be avoided. [103]

In Annals of Clinical Psychiatry article Applied Behavioral Analytic Interventions for children with Autism: A Description and Review of Treatment Research, they point out how frequency is used to keep track of adaptive and maladaptive behaviors. By doing so, ABA therapists and clinicians are able to create a customized program for that patient. The author notes that tracking frequency, in cases specifically looking at frequency of requesting behaviors during play, language, imitation and socialization, can also be a variable to predict treatment outcome.[104]

Rate edit

Same as frequency, yet inside a predefined time limit.

Duration edit

This estimation alludes to how much time that somebody participated in a way of behaving.

Fluency edit

Fluency, is a gauge on how smooth a behavior is performed. Fluency is associated with behaviors that we use over a long duration and be able to perform it with confidence. The three outcomes associated with fluency:

  • The ability to retain the behavior or action
  • Maintain the behavior while there are disruptions
  • The ability to transfer the behavior to other applications[105]

Fluency will increase the response speed and accuracy of a behavior. However, when introduced to a new stimulus different from their usual behavior, there will be a decrease in reaction time or increased response time but with more false alarms.[106][107] Fluency relies on repeated action so the amount of required effort for the behavior is lessened to an extent where the individual could focus more on the other factors of the behavior.[108]

There are two types of approaches to fluency:

  • Unassisted approach - Individual practice of certain behavior. Set a target of response speed and accuracy under a timeframe and readjust accordingly depending on the difficulty.
  • Assisted approach - Behavior assisted by a teacher or an individual.

The unassisted approach would need to perform their reached target behavior to someone. The assisted learning approach have a limitation that it would need an individual to assist them which could be time-consuming for both individuals[109]

Response latency edit

Latency refers to how much time after a particular boost has been given before the objective way of behaving happens.[110][111]

Analyzing behavior change edit

Experimental control edit

In applied behavior analysis, all experiments should include the following:[112]

  • At least one participant
  • At least one behavior (dependent variable)
  • At least one setting
  • A system for measuring the behavior and ongoing visual analysis of data
  • At least one treatment or intervention condition
  • Manipulations of the independent variable so that its effects on the dependent variable may be quantitatively or qualitatively analyzed
  • An intervention that will benefit the participant in some way (behavioral cusp)

Methodologies developed through ABA research edit

Task analysis edit

Task analysis is a process in which a task is analyzed into its component parts so that those parts can be taught through the use of chaining: forward chaining, backward chaining and total task presentation. Task analysis has been used in organizational behavior management, a behavior analytic approach to changing the behaviors of members of an organization (e.g., factories, offices, or hospitals).[113] Behavioral scripts often emerge from a task analysis.[114][115] Bergan conducted a task analysis of the behavioral consultation relationship[116] and Thomas Kratochwill developed a training program based on teaching Bergan's skills.[117] A similar approach was used for the development of microskills training for counselors.[118][119][120] Ivey would later call this "behaviorist" phase a very productive one[121] and the skills-based approach came to dominate counselor training during 1970–90.[122] Task analysis was also used in determining the skills needed to access a career.[123] In education, Englemann (1968) used task analysis as part of the methods to design the direct instruction curriculum.[124]

Chaining edit

The skill to be learned is broken down into small units for easy learning. For example, a person learning to brush teeth independently may start with learning to unscrew the toothpaste cap. Once they have learned this, the next step may be squeezing the tube, etc.[125][126]

For problem behavior, chains can also be analyzed and the chain can be disrupted to prevent the problem behavior.[127] Some behavior therapies, such as dialectical behavior therapy, make extensive use of behavior chain analysis, but is not philosophically behavior analytic.[128]

There are two types of chain in the ABA world: forward chain and backward chain. Forward chain starts with the first step and continues until the final step, while backward chain begins with the last step and moves backward until the first step.[129]

Prompting edit

A prompt is a cue that is used to encourage a desired response from an individual.[130] Prompts are often categorized into a prompt hierarchy from most intrusive to least intrusive, although there is some controversy about what is considered most intrusive, those that are physically intrusive or those that are hardest prompt to fade (e.g., verbal).[131] In order to minimize errors and ensure a high level of success during learning, prompts are given in a most-to-least sequence and faded systematically.[132] During this process, prompts are faded as quickly as possible so that the learner does not come to depend on them and eventually behaves appropriately without prompting.[133][134]

Types of prompts edit

Prompters might use any or all of the following to suggest the desired response:

  • Vocal prompts: Words or other vocalizations
  • Visual prompts: A visual cue or picture
  • Gestural prompts: A physical gesture
  • Positional prompt: e.g., the target item is placed close to the individual.
  • Modeling: Modeling the desired response. This type of prompt is best suited for individuals who learn through imitation and can attend to a model.
  • Physical prompts: Physically manipulating the individual to produce the desired response. There are many degrees of physical prompts, from quite intrusive (e.g., the teacher places a hand on the learner's hand) to minimally intrusive (e.g., a slight tap).[132]

This is not an exhaustive list of prompts; the nature, number, and order of prompts are chosen to be the most effective for a particular individual.

Fading edit

The overall goal is for an individual to eventually not need prompts. As an individual gains mastery of a skill at a particular prompt level, the prompt is faded to a less intrusive prompt. This ensures that the individual does not become overly dependent on a particular prompt when learning a new behavior or skill.

One of the primary choices that was made while showing another way of behaving is the manner by which to fade the prompts or prompts. An arrangement should be set up to fade the prompts in an organized style. For instance, blurring the actual brief of directing a kid's hands might follow this succession: (a) supporting wrists, (b) contacting hands softly, (c) contacting lower arm or elbow, and (d) pulling out actual contact through and through. Fading guarantees that the kid does not turn out to be excessively subject to a specific brief while mastering another expertise.[111]

Thinning a reinforcement schedule edit

Thinning is often confused with fading. Fading refers to a prompt being removed, where thinning refers to an increase in the time or number of responses required between reinforcements.[135] Periodic thinning that produces a 30% decrease in reinforcement has been suggested as an efficient way to thin.[136] Schedule thinning is often an important and neglected issue in contingency management and token economy systems, especially when these are developed by unqualified practitioners (see professional practice of behavior analysis).[137]

Generalization edit

Generalization is the expansion of a student's performance ability beyond the initial conditions set for acquisition of a skill.[138] Generalization can occur across people, places, and materials used for teaching. For example, once a skill is learned in one setting, with a particular instructor, and with specific materials, the skill is taught in more general settings with more variation from the initial acquisition phase. For example, if a student has successfully mastered learning colors at the table, the teacher may take the student around the house or school and generalize the skill in these more natural environments with other materials. Behavior analysts have spent considerable amount of time studying factors that lead to generalization.[139]

Shaping edit

Shaping involves gradually modifying the existing behavior into the desired behavior. If the student engages with a dog by hitting it, then they could have their behavior shaped by reinforcing interactions in which they touch the dog more gently. Over many interactions, successful shaping would replace the hitting behavior with patting or other gentler behavior. Shaping is based on a behavior analyst's thorough knowledge of operant conditioning principles and extinction. Recent efforts to teach shaping have used simulated computer tasks.[140]

One teaching technique found to be effective with some students, particularly children, is the use of video modeling (the use of taped sequences as exemplars of behavior). It can be used by therapists to assist in the acquisition of both verbal and motor responses, in some cases for long chains of behavior.[141][142]

Another example of shaping is when a toddler learns to walk. The child is reinforced by crawling, standing, taking a few steps, and then eventually walking. When a child is learning to walk, they are praised by a lot of claps and excitements.[143]

Interventions based on an FBA edit

Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is an individualized critical thinking process for tending to address problem behavior. An evaluation is led to distinguish the reason or capability of a problem behavior. This evaluation interaction includes gathering data about the ecological circumstances that go before the issue conduct and the resulting rewards that reinforce the way of behaving. The data that is collected is then used to recognize and execute individualized interventions pointed toward lessening issue ways of behaving and expanding positive ways of behaving.

Critical to behavior analytic interventions is the concept of a systematic behavioral case formulation with a functional behavioral assessment or analysis at the core.[144][145] This approach should apply a behavior analytic theory of change (see Behavioral change theories). This formulation should include a thorough functional assessment, a skills assessment, a sequential analysis (behavior chain analysis), an ecological assessment, a look at existing evidenced-based behavioral models for the problem behavior (such as Fordyce's model of chronic pain)[146] and then a treatment plan based on how environmental factors influence behavior. Some argue that behavior analytic case formulation can be improved with an assessment of rules and rule-governed behavior.[147][148][149] Some of the interventions that result from this type of conceptualization involve training specific communication skills to replace the problem behaviors as well as specific setting, antecedent, behavior, and consequence strategies.[150]

Major journals edit

Applied behavior analysts publish in many journals. Some examples of "core" behavior analytic journals are:

  1. Applied Animal Behaviour Science
  2. Behavioral Health and Medicine[151]
  3. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice[152]
  4. Behavior and Philosophy[153]
  5. Behavior and Social Issues[154]
  6. Behavior Modification[155]
  7. Behavior Therapy
  8. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis
  9. Journal of Behavior Analysis of Offender and Victim: Treatment and Prevention[151]
  10. Journal of Behavior Analysis of Sports, Health, Fitness, and Behavioral Medicine[151]
  11. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science[156]
  12. Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Interventions[151]
  13. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management[157]
  14. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions[158]
  15. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
  16. Perspectives on Behavior Science (formerly The Behavior Analyst until 2018)
  17. The Behavioral Development Bulletin[151]
  18. The Behavior Analyst Today[151]
  19. The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy[151]
  20. The Journal of Behavioral Assessment and Intervention in Children[151]
  21. The Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis[151]
  22. The Psychological Record

Other species edit

ABA has been successfully used in other species.[159] Morris uses ABA to reduce feather-plucking in the black vulture (Coragyps atratus).[159]

See also edit

References edit

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