SPED 8013 | Chapter 1: Definitions and Characteristics

Applied Behavior Analysis

Basic Characteristics of Science

Systematic approach for seeking & organizing knowledge about the natural world

  • Purpose:
    • To achieve a thorough understanding of the phenomena under study
      • ABA: Socially important behaviors
    • Seeks to discover the real truths (not those held by certain groups, organizations, etc.)
  • Description:
    • Collection of facts about observed events that can be quantified, classified, and examined for possible relations with other known facts
    • Often suggests hypotheses or questions for additional research
  • Prediction:
    • Relative probability that when one event occurs, another event will or will not occur
    • Based on repeated observation revealing relationships between various events
    • Demonstrates correlations between events
    • No causal relationships can be interpreted
    • Enables preparation
  • Control:
    • Highest level of scientific understanding
    • Functional relations can be derived
      • Specific change in one event (dependent variable)
      • Can reliably be produced by specific manipulations of another event (independent variable)
      • And the change in the dependent variable was unlikely to be the result of other extraneous factors (confounding variables)
      • Events can only be “co-related”
      • Nearly impossible to factor out all other possible “causes”

Attitudes of Science

  • Science as a set of attitudes (Skinner, 1953)
  • Definition of science lies within the behavior of scientists, not the instruments or materials they use
  • Only known as science due to an overriding idea of “scientific method”
    • Fundamental assumptions about the nature of events
  • Scientific attitudes that guide the work of all scientists include: D.E.E.R.P.P.
    • Determinism: Is the assumption upon which science is predicated. It is the presumption that the universe is a lawful and orderly place in which all phenomena occur as the result of other events. Events do not just occur at random. Events are related in systematic ways.
    • Empiricism: The practice of objective observation of phenomena of interest. What all scientific knowledge is built upon. “Objective” is the key to gaining a better understanding of what is being studied.
    • Experimentation: Basic strategy in most sciences. An experiment is a controlled comparison of some measure of the phenomenon of interest (dependent variable) under two or more different conditions in which only one factor at a time (independent variable) differs from one condition to another.
    • Replication: The repetition of experiments to determine the reliability and usefulness of findings. Includes the repetition of independent variable conditions within experiments. Method by which mistakes are discovered and results refined.
    • Parsimony: The idea that simple logical explanations must be ruled out, experimentally or conceptually, before more complex or abstract explanations are considered. Helps scientists fit findings within the field’s existing knowledge base. (Think Occam’s Razor)
    • Philosophic doubt: The continuous questioning of the truthfulness and validity of all scientific theory and knowledge. Involves the use of scientific evidence before implementing a new practice, then constantly monitoring the effectiveness of the practice after its implementation.

A Definition of Science

  • Science is:
    • A systematic approach to the understanding of natural phenomena…
    • As evidenced by description, prediction, and control…
    • That relies on determinism as its fundamental assumption…
    • Empiricism as its prime directive…
    • Experimentation as its basic strategy…
    • Replication as its necessary requirements for believability…
    • Parsimony as its conservative value…
    • And philosophic doubt as its guiding conscience.

Development of Applied Behavior Analysis

  • Behavior analysis is comprised of three major branches
    • Behaviorism
      • Philosophy of the science of behavior
    • Experimental analysis of behavior (EAB)
      • Basic research
    • Applied behavior analysis (ABA)
      • Development of a technology for improving behavior
      • Can only be understood in the context of the philosophy and basic research tradition and findings
    • Psychology in the early 1900s was dominated with the study of states of consciousness, images, and other mental processes. It was very much about what was going on inside the head.
    • Watson is recognized as moving the field of psychology in a new direction:
      • Argued that subject matter for psychology should be the study of observable behavior, not states of mind or mental processes
      • Early form of behaviorism known as stimulus-response (S-R) psychology (Watsonian Behaviorism)
      • Created foundation for the study of behavior as a natural science
    • B.F. Skinner’s The Behavior of Organism’s (1938/1966)
      • Formally began the experimental branch of behavior analysis
      • Summarized his laboratory research from 1930-1937
      • Discussed two types of behavior:
        • Respondent (Often referred to as classical conditioning):
          • Reflexive behavior
          • Ivan Pavlov (1927/1960
          • Respondents are elicited (“brought out”) by stimuli that immediately precede them
          • Antecedent stimulus & response it elicits form a functional unit called a reflex
          • Involuntary responses
          • Occur whenever eliciting stimulus is present
          • S-R model
        • Operant:
          • Behavior is shaped through the consequences that immediately follow it
          • Three term contingency model (ABC)
          • S-R-S model
          • Behavior that is influenced by stimulus changes that have followed the behavior in the past
    • Experimental Analysis of Behavior (EAB)
      • Names as a new science by Skinner
      • Outlined specific methodology for its practice:
        • The rate or frequency of response it the most common dependent variable
        • Repeated or continuous measurement is made of carefully defined response classes
        • Within-subject experimental comparisons are used instead of designs comparing the behavior of experimental and control groups
        • Visual analysis of graphed data is preferred over statistical inference
        • A description of functional relations is valued over formal theory testing
    • Skinner and Colleagues conducted many laboratory experiments between 1930s-1950s:
      • Discovered and verified basic principles of operant behavior
      • Same principles continue to provide the empirical foundation for behavior analysis today
    • B.F. Skinner
      • Founder of experimental analysis of behavior
      • Wrote extensively
        • Very influential in guiding the science of behavior and in proposing the application of the principles of behavior to new areas
        • Walden Two (1948)
        • Science and Human Behavior (1953)
        • About Behaviorism (1974)
      • Philosophy of science became known as radical behaviorism
    • Radical Behaviorism
      • Attempts to explain all behavior, including private behavior (internal, e.g., thinking/feeling)
    • Methodological Behaviorism
      • Philosophical position that considers events that cannot be publicly observed to be outside the realm of the science
    • Mentalism
      • Approach to understanding behavior that assumes a mental or “inner” dimension exists that differs from a behavioral dimension and that phenomena in this dimension either directly cause or at least mediate some forms of behavior
      • Relies on hypothetical constructs and explanatory fictions
      • Explanatory fictions (i.e., knowledge):
        • A fictitious variable that often is simply another name for the observed behavior that contributes nothing to an understanding for the variables responsible for developing (or maintaining) the behavior
        • Circular view of the cause and effect
      • Dominated Western intellectual thought and most psychological theories (Freud, Descartes, Piaget)
    • Structuralism
      • Rejects all events that are not operationally defined by objective assessment
      • Restrict activities to descriptions of behavior
      • Make no scientific manipulations; do not address causal questions
    • Methodological Behaviorism
      • Rejects all events that are not operationally defined by objective assessment
        • Deny existence of “inner variables” or consider them outside the realm of scientific account
        • Acknowledge the existence of mental events but do not consider them in the analysis of behavior
      • Use scientific manipulations to search for functional relations between events
      • Restrictive view since it ignores major areas of importance
    • Skinner did not object to cognitive psychology’s concern with thoughts & feelings (i.e., events taking place “inside the skin”)
      • Referred to these as “private events”
      • They are behavior to be analyzed with the same conceptual tools and experimental tools used to analyze publicly observable behavior
    • Radical Behaviorism (Skinner’s Behaviorism) makes three assumptions about the nature of private events:
      • Private events such as thoughts and feelings are behavior
      • Behavior that takes place within the skin is distinguished from other (“public”) behavior only by its inaccessibility
      • Private behavior has no special properties and is influenced by (i.e. is a function of) the same kinds o variables as publicly accessible behavior
      • In addition:
        • Includes and seeks to understand all human behavior
        • Far reaching and thoroughgoing
        • Dramatic departure from other conceptual systems
    • Fuller (1949)
      • One of the first studies to report the human application of operant behavior
      • Participant 18-year old boy with profound mental disabilities
      • Arm-raising response was conditioned by injecting small amounts of warm sugar milk solution into the participants mouth every time he moved his right arm
    • Allyon & Michael (1959)
      • “The Psychiatric Nurse as a Behavioral Engineer”
      • Formed the basis for branch of behavior analysis that would later be called applied behavior analysis (ABA)
      • Described techniques based on principles of behavior to improve the functioning of residents with psychotic disorders or mental retardation
    • 1960s
      • Researcher’s began to apply principles of behavior in an effort to improve socially important behavior
      • Techniques for measuring behavior and controlling and manipulating variables were sometimes unavailable, or inappropriate
      • Little funding was unavailable
      • No ready outlet for publishing studies
        • Difficult to communicate findings
      • Despite the limitations of the 1960’s many applications of behavior were made
      • Application of behavior principles to education is a major area of impact
      • Provided the foundation for:
        • Behavioral approaches to curriculum design
        • Instructional methods
        • Classroom management
        • Generalization and maintenance of learning
    • 1960s – 1970s
      • Many new university programs were developed in applied behavior analysis
      • Teaching and research conducted in these programs made major contributions to the rapid growth of the field
    • 1968 MARKS THE FORMAL BEGINNING OF ABA
      • Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis began publication (JABA) Flagship journal of ABA
      • “Some Current Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis” (Baer, Wolf & Risely)
        • Founding fathers of the new discipline (ABA)
        • Defined the criteria for judging adequacy of research and practice in ABA and outlined the scope of work for those in the science
        • Most widely cited publication in ABA
        • Remains standard description of the discipline

Defining Characteristics of Applied Behavior Analysis

Baer, Wolf and Risely (1968) recommended the following seven defining dimensions for researcher behavior change programs: ABA Tech Geek

  • Applied: Investigates socially significant behaviors with immediate importance to the participants(s). Examples include such areas as: Social, Language, Academic, Daily Living, Self-care, Vocational, Recreation and or Leisure
  • Behavioral: Precise measurement of the actual behavior in need of improvement and documents that it was the participant’s behavior that changed. The behavior is in need of improvement and it is a study of behavior (not about behavior). The behavior must be measurable. Important to note whose behavior has changed.
  • Analytic: Demonstrates experimental control over the occurrence and nonoccurrence of the behavior (a functional relation is demonstrated). Functional and replicable relations.
  • Technological: Written description of all procedures in the study is sufficiently complete and detailed to enable others to replicate it. All operative procedures are identified and described in detail and clarity. Replicable technology.
  • Generality: Produces behavior changes that last over time. Appear in other environments (other than the one in which the intervention was implemented.) Or spread to other behaviors (those not directly treated by the intervention).
  • Effective: Improves behavior sufficiently to produce practical results for the participant(s). Improvements in behavior must reach clinical or social significance. Extent to which changes in the target behavior(s) result in noticeable changes.
  • Conceptual: Behavior change interventions are derived from basic principles of behavior. Better enable research consumer to derive other similar procedures from the same principle(s). Assist in integrating discipline into a system instead of a “collection of tricks”

Additional Characteristics of ABA

  • Offers society an approach toward solving problem that is:
    • Accountable
      • Created by the focus on:
        • Accessible environmental variables that reliably influence behavior
        • Reliance on direct and frequent measurement to detect changes in behavior
          • Detect successes and failures
          • Allow changes to be made
    • Public
      • Visible, explicit, and straightforward
      • Of value across a very broad spectrum of fields
    • Doable
      • Not prohibitively complicated or arduous
      • Variety of individuals are able to implement principles and interventions
    • Empowering
      • Provides practitioners with real tools that work
      • Raises confidence
      • Increases confidence for future challenges
    • Optimistic
      • Possibilities for each individual (Strain et al., 1992)
      • Detect small improvements
      • Positive outcomes yield a more optimistic attitude about future successes
      • Peer-reviewed literature provides many examples of success

Definition of Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis is:

  • A scientific approach to improving socially significant behavior…
  • In which procedures derived from the principles of behavior are systematically applied to improve socially significant behavior…
  • And to demonstrate experimentally that the procedures employed were responsible for the improvement in behavior

Six key components:

  • Guided by attitudes and methods of scientific inquiry
  • All behavior change procedures are described and implemented in a systematic, technological manner
  • Only procedures conceptually derived from the basic principles of behavior are subscribed to by the field
  • Focus in socially significant behavior
  • Seeks to make meaningful improvement in important behavior
  • Seeks to produce an analysis of the factors responsible for improvement

Domains of Behavior Analytic Science

  • Four Domains:
    • Behaviorism: Theoretical
    • Experimental Analysis of Behavior (EAB) Basic research
    • Applied Behavior Analysis: Applied research
    • Professional Practice: services
  • Behavior analysts may work in one or more of the four domains
  • Domains are very interrelated and influence one another