What Is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Decreasing Behavior (yellow & purple)

Behavior analysis is the science of identifying the relationship(s) between biology, the environment, and behavior.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a branch of behavior analysis that focuses on changing meaningful, “real-world” behavior. Scientists and clinicians who work in the field of ABA address the behavioral needs (e.g., aggression, disruptions) of a variety of individuals (e.g., older adults with dementia, adults with mental health issues, and children with autism) in a variety of settings (e.g., at home, in residential, vocational, or educations facilities).

In ABA, behavior analysts identify the relationship between environmental events (e.g., antecedent triggers, rewarding consequences) and behavior (e.g., aggression, disruptions) in order to identify what influences behavior. Behavior analysts focus on observable, measurable behaviors. We collect information of when the behavior occurs, what happens before and after the behavior occurs, and the severity of the challenging behaviors. Behavior analysts use this assessment information to plan interventions to decrease problem behaviors and increase more appropriate, alternative behaviors. Behavior analysts believe that we can increase appropriate behaviors by providing rewarding consequences and decrease challenging behaviors by withholding rewarding consequences. Clinicians in ABA also rearrange the environment to change antecedent triggers in order to prevent challenging behaviors and encourage appropriate behaviors.

In ABA, we recognize that environmental causes of challenging behavior (e.g., antecedent triggers and rewarding consequences) are person-specific. Therefore, all assessments and interventions are tailored to the needs of the individual and goals of the caregivers. However, behavior analysts work within an interdisciplinary model and often collaborate with physicians, nurses, and occupational, physical, or recreational therapists.

For more information about ABA, visit the Association for Behavior Analysis International, the Association for Professional Behavior Analysts, or the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.