Applied behavioral analysis: definition, techniques and uses

Applied behavioral analysis, a scientific and practical procedure that originates from the radical behaviorism of BF Skinner, Has come a long way since pioneers like Skinner began to develop the operant conditioning paradigm almost 100 years ago.

In this article we will describe applied behavior analysis and its main techniques and utilities.

    Definition of applied behavior analysis

    The term “applied behavior analysis” or “applied behavior analysis” refers to a type of procedure that uses the principles and learning techniques of psychology to modify behavior people who need help. More specifically, the applied behavioral analysis is based on the Skinnerian operative paradigm.

    This usually involves replacing inappropriate behaviors with functionally equivalent but more desirable ones. For this, it is necessary to first perform functional analysis of behavior, i.e. determining contingenciess between the response, the motivation to perform it, the stimuli that precede it and the consequences that support it.

    The concept is very close to that of behavior modification; At present, the two are frequently used interchangeably, although “applied behavior analysis” is considered more correct to have a broader meaning and to emphasize the relevance of functional behavioral analysis.

    This discipline has been applied in a very particular way by promote the education of children with autism spectrum disorders (Particularly related to language), although it is also used in people with intellectual or physical functional diversity, severe mental disorders or substance dependence, as well as in non-clinical or educational settings.

    historical development

    Burrhus Frederick Skinner developed the operant conditioning paradigm by re-conceptualizing the knowledge provided by his predecessors into the radical behaviorism framework, which deals with the behavior observable without treating hypothetical constructions, in particular the mind, as basic components.

    However, and contrary to what many psychologists believe, the operating model and radical behaviorism neither deny nor ignore the importance of thoughts and other intermediate psychological variables. In fact, the most common in analyzing functional behavior is to include motivations, beliefs, expectations, and other cognitive processes.

    Applied behavioral analysis as such dates back to the 1960s. Around this time, researchers and theorists from the universities of Washington and Kansas began to work systematically in this area and founded the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, of which Skinner himself would be president until his death.

    A particularly prominent researcher in this area was Ivar Lovaas, who promoted and contributed in a key way to the systematization of the use of applied behavior analysis in cases of childhood autism. The popularization of this discipline over the following decades considerably broadened the scope of applied behavior analysis.

      Techniques and methods used

      Applied behavioral analysis, as for operative conditioning in general, it is largely based on the concept of reinforcement, Which is defined as the reinforcement of a given response because its execution has positive consequences (or, to put it more correctly, appetitive) for those who carry it out.

      In this context, both the elimination of reinforcements contingent on undesirable conduits, which is called “extinction”, and the application of new reinforcements after the performance of the behaviors intended to be consolidated are essential. It is preferable that the reinforcement be immediate, but beyond that, it is better to individualize it.

      Another key element of applied behavior analysis is the high degree of structuring of procedures. This allows for systematic assessment of the progress of treatment or training, and is particularly important for people with autism because of their characteristic need for environmental structuring.

      Some of the most common psychological techniques in applied behavior analysis are modeling (learning through observation and imitation), molding (progressive refinement of a response), chaining (dividing complex behaviors into segments) , and differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviors with which he seeks to eliminate.

        Applications of this discipline

        As we have already said, the most characteristic procedures of applied behavioral analysis are those which concern autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other common developmental disorders. The main aspects of these disorders are deficits in communication, social interaction and variety in the behavioral repertoire.

        In these cases, applied behavioral analysis has a wide variety of uses, such as development and improving spoken language and other procedural skills; for example, it is common for children with these disorders to have difficulty learning basic self-care skills.

        From a clinical point of view, Applied Behavior Analysis can be used in virtually any type of problem because it is a very general framework for intervention. However, it can be particularly useful for consolidating alternative behaviors to those which characterize a specific pathology of the client.

        Beyond education and clinical psychology, other areas where Applied Behavior Analysis is used include health and exercise promotion, medical interventions, Occupational safety, management of dementia, and training and care of non-human animals.

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