Understanding Behavior: Basics of ABA

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Anonymous asked: I want to learn more about Ivar Lovaas and his research. Do you have any recommendations for where to look?

Hello Anonymous!

There is some good information about Dr. Ole Ivar Lovaas and his institute at the following link:


I can’t say that I’m an expert in his history or experience, but I do know that much of his treatment development early on was considered controversial due to the introduction of aversives like shock therapy. Much of the research he’s conducted has been replaced by more effective methods of teaching, so please keep that in mind as you look into his early work.

I would also suggest looking at current research regarding punishment and aversives. Journals like the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, The Behavior Analyst, and others are great for anyone trying to remain in continuous contact with the current literature.

I hope that helps!


Filed under aba applied behavior analysis behavior skinner b.f. skinner science BCBA

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My Pet Peeve with “Maladaptive Behavior”

Ok, so, I see the term “Maladaptive behavior” quite a bit in clinical practice. And at first, it makes sense. Typically, it is used to describe behaviors that are NOT adaptive to daily living and social context. Here’s a scenario: “Johnny will scream and yell in class, so I have to send him out on a daily basis. His Maladaptive behavior is disrupting his learning!”

Makes sense, right?

Wrong. Here’s why:

Johnny’s behavior is absolutely adaptive for getting Johnny what he is motivated to get; escape from the classroom. Yes, it isn’t adaptive for the classroom, but we aren’t talking about the classroom’s behavior here.

We are talking about Johnny’s behavior. And for Johnny, and the purpose of the behavior, it was absolutely adaptive! As a matter of fact, it was the most efficient way for Johnny to get the highest rate of reinforcement with the lowest response effort. Had he asked to leave the room, it is likely the teacher would have said “no” or set a contingency that Johnny will have to complete work prior to exitting. For Johnny, it is much easier to yell and leave than do any additional work.

So, yes, Johnny’s behavior is problematic. That is why I call it problem behavior, or socially inappropriate behavior (in the context). It works well for Johnny, but it isn’t appropriate in the school setting.

Moving forward, I BEG you, consider the behaver and the behavior you are targeting. It is a target behavior for reduction, problem behavior, or inappropriate behavior. Because it is most certainly adaptive for Johnny.

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The Journal of The Experimental Analysis of Behavior

Working in the field for the past several years, I don’t hear a ton about this journal, but what I do hear is a ton of flack about how it isn’t applicable to the applied setting, etc. And sure, the research presented in it isn’t IMMEDIATELY applicable to the field, but holy cow, is there some good stuff in there.

And more than anything, it establishes that there are real gaps in research that can be addressed moving forward.

Godspeed, JEAB.


P.S. I still prefer the Analysis of Verbal Behavior

Filed under JEAB Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior behavior aba verbal behavior applied behavior analysis science research articles

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Article of the Week: Baer, Wolf, & Risley (1968). Some Current Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis

Good day!

      So, as I was reviewing some treatment plans, graphs, and various other aspects of clinical practice, I got to thinking about how great this field is and how far it has come in just a few short years. There are entire branches of ABA dedicated to people, animals, schools, employment, language acquisition, and even robotics (I,for one, welcome our new robot overlords). 

In any case, I thought it was important to go back to some of the basics, which is why I chose to look at Baer, Wolf, and Risley’s (1968) article about the dimensions of ABA. If you don’t know about this article, it is one of the seminal publications in our field, shaping what modern ABA looks like today. This is where the concepts of Generality, Effective, Technological, Applied, Conceptually Systematic, Analytic, and Behavioral were originally coined.

Also, it is interesting that this was the first article published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

So, take some time, find this article, and get to know it, because this is a foundational bit of information for our field.



Filed under aba applied behavior analysis behavior b.f. skinner B.F. Skinner operant behavior science research research article

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Article of the Week: Sundberg (2013). Thirty points about motivation from Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior

Hello all!

      So, in order to keep this thing rolling with interesting material, I’ve decided to post a brief review of articles I find in my ongoing quest for eternal knowledge (as evidenced by specific skill acquisition, of course!). Anyway, I thought this article was really great, and you should check it out:

- Sundberg, M. (2013). Thirty points about motivation from Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior. The Behavior Analyst, 29, 13-40.

In this article, Dr. Mark Sundberg (developer of the VB-MAPP) breaks down Skinner’s Verbal Behavior into some key points that are incredibly important in our field. Some of my favorite points he elaborates on are:

Point #4: MOs are typically private events
Point #13: Much of what is termed “emotion” involves an MO effect
Point #30: MOs are responsible for the emergence of human language

So, when you get a moment, go to Google scholar and check it out, or email me and I can send you a copy as well.



Filed under behavior behavior analysis applied behavior analysis verbal behavior skinner b.f. skinner sundberg mark sundberg aba motivating operations

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Anonymous asked: Am I right in thinking that Skinner rejected the idea that thoughts, feelings, etc played a causal role in behaviour, or am I misinterpreting his book "About Behaviourism"? If he did, do modern Behaviour Analysts still think this?


Hi there Anonymous and thanks for the question.  

You are correct in your interpretation of B.F.Skinner’s work in About Behaviorism.  He and today’s behaviour analyst reject the notion that thoughts, feeling, inner mental processes are the causes for (or reasons behind) behaviour. When we find ourselves answering the question of “Why did Johnny do X?” with some reference to thinking, feeling, knowing, remembering etc. (all verbs attributed to the mind), this is referred to as mentalism.  

Do any of these sound familiar?

Why did Johnny hit his friend?  Because he was mad.

Why did Billy cry?  Because he was sad.

Why did Jenny get 100% on her math quiz?  Because she is smart.

How did Alex get to the concert on her own?  She remembered the route.

These mentalistic explanations offer no insight on how to stop Johnny from hitting or how to replicate Jenny’s results for the next math test.  To illustrate: people are allowed to feel mad.  It is what happens immediately before and after the hitting that tells us what is really going on.  In Johnny’s case, his friend may have taken a toy away from him (antecedent), so he hits (behaviour) because in the past when he has hit someone who had his toy, he got the toy back (consequence). 

Rejecting thoughts, feelings, mental processes as the cause for behaviour is not the same thing as rejecting their existence -  something behaviourism is often incorrectly criticized for. Rather, Skinner viewed thoughts, feelings and other mental processes as behaviours.  He referred to them as “private events” which, like other behaviours, are open to analysis - if only we could see or hear them. In some cases we can analyze the verbal behaviour of speaking, writing, signing or using some other augmentative communication form as the public version of these private events. But, as Skinner warned, we also have to be sure the verbal behaviour is reliable; that is corresponds to the private event that is the thought or feeling. For example, there is nothing stopping me from saying “I feel good” when really I am experiencing private feelings of sadness.

Modern day behaviour analysts follow this paradigm allowing us to objectively measure only that which we can see or hear.  Adhering to this paradigm allows for behaviour analysis to occur and a functional relationship to be discovered - a relationship we can either repeat or alter depending on the behaviour goal.  

When providing explanations for behaviours, remember to check your mentalism!

This is perfect! I’ll raise my hand as a proud radical behaviorist!

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Today, I had a private event…

So, as I was driving today, I suddenly became aware of how powerful a science ABA is. It is a world-changing science, and as such, I find that we are moving closer to a larger systems change. Changes in litigation, insurance, etc. are all moving forward, and it is a pretty incredible time for a behavior analyst to be practicing.

And here is the private event: I am looking for people who are interested in looking at major social change potential. I’ve got some gears cranking (or some private events that seem to be perseverative), and I’m thinking that here is what I need.

1. Legal expertise in educational settings
2. Teachers currently working in school settings
3. Criminologists
4. Professionals working in corrections (or some similar field)
5. Medical doctors
6. Any profession that may need to address some ongoing social concerns

See me here if you are interested. I see big things in the future (based on risk assessment, potential response effort, and overall reinforcement, of course!).

Filed under aba applied behavior analysis social change behavior analysis skinner behavior B.F. Skinner bcba

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CEU Event

Hello everyone! Our next CEU course will take place on February 28, 2014 at 6pm. “The Future of Behavior Analysis” or, “ABA and Robots? Who Knew?” To celebrate our first year of operation, we are offering the 1 hour course for 5 dollars! Come check us out at www.NewArchitectsLLC.com 

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