Applied Behavior Analysis


In 1999 a report on mental health prepared by the Surgeon General of the United States stated, “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior.” Behavior Analysis is the scientific study of behavior. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the application of this science.

The principles of ABA are applied to create increases and decreases in behavior. Behaviors that are targeted to increase or decrease are those that are socially significant. Over 40 years of research have shown the effectiveness of ABA across populations, settings and behaviors. ABA has been endorsed as an effective treatment for Autism by the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Mental Health Institute.

The defining characteristics of ABA were established in an article written by Don Baer, Montrose Wolf, and Todd Risley in 1968. There are 7 defining characteristics:

  • Applied – behaviors addressed should be socially significant. The client, those who interact with them, and socialized norms determine what is considered socially significant.
  • Behavioral- behavior and environmental events need to be observable and measurable
  • Analytic- demonstrates a functional relationship between the manipulated events and the behavior
  • Technological- procedures are precisely described such that any other researcher or behavior analyst can replicate the application
  • Conceptually Systematic- behavior changes are described in terms of relevant basic principles (example: the behavior increased as a result of providing positive reinforcement)
  • Effective- must improve behavior to a socially meaningful extent
  • Generality- behavior change lasts over time, occurs in other settings, or affects other behaviors not directly addressed by the intervention
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