Behavior: The good, the bad, the ugly

Read Time: 5 minutes

As described by Cooper, Heron and Heward (2007), behavior is anything an organism does and their effect on their environment. The saying goes “If a dead man can do it, then it is not behavior.”

As adults, we engage in different types of behaviors for different outcomes:

  • If I call my doctor’s office →  they will schedule my appointment

  • If I pay someone to take a test for me →  I don’t have to study

  • If I get a massage → it will make me feel relaxed

  • If I continue to call my ex-boyfriend → he will eventually pick up

Kids do the same thing:

  • If I ask for a cookie nicely → I will get the cookie

  • If I scream →  I won’t have to do my homework

  • If I spin quickly →  my head feels funny

  • If I scream for my mom when she’s on the phone → she will hang up

What do these scenarios have in common? A behavior usually has 3 things in common: an antecedent (something that happens before the behavior), the behavior itself, and the consequence (what happens after the behavior).

Why do these behaviors occur? Adult or child, usually our behavior occurs for one or combined reasons. The first reason is to get access to attention. This may be positive or negative attention but in the end we classify it all as attention. A child who constantly yells “mom” while she’s on the phone has learned that by calling her name, she will provide the attention he/she desires. The second reason that could be behind a behavior is to escape from a task. In the example above, the child has learned that by screaming, he/she will eventually get out of doing their homework. The third reason a behavior may occur is to gain access to items. We often see this example on the playground. A child may learn that if they push another child, the child will give them their turn or toy. The last reason a behavior may occur is because it simply feels good. My favorite example is of myself! Whenever I begin to get nervous, I begin to twirl my curls with my fingers because it feels calming to me.

Why do these behaviors continue to occur? These behaviors continue to occur if they result in the same desired outcomes. For example, if the mom no longer acknowledges the screaming child when she’s on the phone, he/she will attempt other behaviors to gain her attention. If a child no longer gets his way from pushing his peers, this behavior will decrease.

Our following blog will review how to teach appropriate behaviors while working on decreasing undesired behaviors!  

Cooper J.O, Heron T.E, Heward W.L. Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson; 2007.

How to use ABA techniques to conquer your 2019 goals

As the saying goes: New Year, New Me! But how many of these goals do we actually meet when the year comes to an end? Most of the time, we don’t even remember what our goals were for the previous year! This article will review how to use ABA to conquer your new 2019 goals. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) studies behaviors and the environmental variables that contribute to these behaviors continuing to occur or not occurring at all. Follow these steps to ensure that you are able to reach your 2019 goals using ABA techniques:

  1. Setting clear and objective (measurable) goals: describing in detail what we wish to accomplish and what constitutes meeting this definition. An example could be “I will go to the gym 3x a week”.

  2. Take data on your behavior: As behavior analyst, we LOVE analyzing data to see why behaviors are/are not occurring. This application when completing it on oneself is called self-management: the personal application of behavior change tactics that produces a desired change in behavior (Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2007). By taking data on the behaviors outlined as your goals, you can determine if these goals are being met and why/why not this system is/is not working.

  3. Review your data! If your designed plan is not working, begin to review what variables may be contributing to not reaching these goals. If the goal is to workout 3x a week but the gym is 30 minutes away with traffic, the response effort to attend the gym and sit in traffic may be too high and thus inhibit the motivation to complete the workout. You can find another closer gym or try completing at home workouts instead.

  4. Make antecedent and consequent manipulations: Changing the environment to facilitate behaviors occurring at higher frequencies is called antecedent manipulations. An example of this could be to set out your workout clothes the night before to decrease the hassle of getting ready early in the morning. Consequent manipulations are also extremely important! Create a reward system for yourself if having a system like this in place increases your behavior. An example could be: If the contingency is to to work out 3x/week for a month then you can allow yourself to get a new piece of gym equipment or a new pair of sneakers. This technique is also called the Premack Principle or “Grandma’s Rule”: If a contingency is met then a reward is received.

These techniques can be used in all scenarios of either increasing or decreasing behaviors. As discussed above, it is extremely important to take data and review measurable goals to determine what is/is not working and meet your 2019 goals!  


Cooper J.O, Heron T.E, Heward W.L. Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson; 2007.