Behavior Analysis is looking at and evaluating the cause and effect of one’s behavior, recognizing any problem areas, and correcting these behaviors and environments. Behavior analysis has many applications and benefits a variety of people. Most frequently, behavior analysis is used in mental health treatment, therapy for individuals with disabilities, and other forms of organizational psychology. To understand behavior analysis, one needs to understand behavior.
Behavior is something an individual does that can be observed, measured, and repeated. Behavior refers to the individual’s action, not their motive or purpose for the action. Thus, throwing a ball is the behavior, and throwing something to get attention is the motive. There are many factors that affect, promote, or discourage behaviors in both children and adults. Some of these include environment, habit, and expected outcomes.
There are also many kinds of behavior, but two main types are respondent and operant behaviors. Respondent behavior is our reflexive behaviors. When we touch something hot and pull away, that is a respondent behavior. There is little to no cognitive effort that goes into respondent behaviors, they just happen. Operant behaviors are the opposite. These are the behaviors that you can control or are “operated” by one’s environment. An example of this type of behavior would be choosing to write your name on a piece of paper. Operant behaviors are the focus of ABA therapy. These learned behaviors might not be the healthiest or safest, but have been reinforced in some way or another. An ABA specialist would perform a behavioral analysis on your child to determine where and how behavioral growth might take place.
Let’s go back to the original example of throwing the ball. A child is throwing a ball (behavior) because he wants your attention (motive). Naturally, this operant behavior is not safe but might have been reinforced by “rewarding” the child with his intended purpose (giving him attention). He has now learned that when you are not giving him eye contact and vocalized attention, he will throw something to receive that reward. An ABA therapist and their applied behavior analysis treatment would teach the child new, appropriate ways to communicate needs and wants.
It is important to remember that behavior is based on environment and consistency. Thus, for therapy to be successful, all of the child’s caregivers must be on board. If a child is applying the therapeutic practices only at home, but not at school, it will be less effective. By controlling as many environments as possible and increasing consistency, behaviors can be modified for health and safety.