Identifying and assessing target behaviors
Goals and target behaviors: 1) Identifying and defining behavioral goals. 2) Defining operant target
behaviors. 3) Defining respondent target behaviors. 4) Prioritizing: which behavior to address first
How to assess target behaviors: 1) Types of data. 2) Strategies for assessing behavior. 3) Timing and
accuracy of behavioral assessments
Tips on identifying and assessing behavior
Goals and target behaviors
Target behavior: Objective and unambiguous so that it identifies exactly what the person does that
constitutes the behavioral excess or deficit you want to change. The definition is stated in such a way
that someone who doesnt know the target person would understand what the behavior is and would
identify the same instances of the behavior that you'd see if you were both observing the person
Examples of target behaviors
Cuticle biting: The person's finger is in her mouth and the teeth are chewing on the skin beside the nail.
Exercising: The person is jogging on a treadmill at 3.5 miles an hour at 5% incline for 30 minutes plus 3
minutes each of warm-up and cooldown at lower speeds and no incline
Having a tantrum: The person is crying, screaming and being aggressive, such as by kicking or pounding
on objects or surfaces
Whining: The person is expressing a complaint verbally in high and wavering pitches.
Notice that: Each defined target behavior includes active verbs to describe the specific acts.
Identifying and defining behavioral goals
Types of goals: 1) Outcome goals. 2) Behavioral goals.
Outcome goals: The broad or abstracted results we want to achieve. Usually very obvious and
straightforward. Associated with an outcome that is desired.
Behavioral goals: The level of the target behavior we hope to achieve in a program. Sometimes
outcome and behavioral goals are the same (when both goals simply involve quitting a particular
Examples of outcome goals vs behavioral goals Losing weight: 1) Outcome goal: losing weight. 2) Behavioral goal: reduce snacking to two servings per
Reducing cash register shortages in a small restaurant: 1) Outcome goal: to have cash in the register
equal the register tape totals at the end of each day. If a shortage exceeded 1% of daily sales, the
cashier's salary was docked to cover the loss. The program succeeded in achieving the outcome goal but
did not identify a behavioral goal. 2) Lack of behavioral goal may present a problem because the cashiers
could meet the goal in different ways. E.g. shortcoming customers, under-ringing sales on the register
After defining behavioral goals
After defining behavioral goals: 1) Identify and define target behavior and behavioral goals in
measurable terms. Failure to do this may result in two things: 1) Think behavior occurred when it didnt.
2) Did not notice behavior occurred when it did.
Behavioral sub-goals: Intermediate levels of the behavior to be achieve by specific dates during the
Defining operant target behaviors
Detail of target behavior definition: The amount of specificity in the definition of target behavior goal
depends on the specific behavior. E.g. if you wanted to modify how fast you chew each bite of food,
you'd need to define "bite" and "slower".
Overt and covert behaviors
Overt behaviors: We usually define external (overt) behaviors more clearly and measure them more
objctively than internal (covert) behaviors.
Covert behaviors: Harder to define internal behaviors (thoughts, feelings, physiological changes).
Measuring internal behaviors may be very subjective unless you have a means of objectifying it (e.g.
using an ECG for heart rate).
Complex behaviors: Sometimes a target behavior involves learning a complex set of responses.
Behavioral chain: A motor activity that consists of a complex sequence of antecedents (stimuli) and
responses. To perform a chain correctly, the links must be done in a particular order.
Link: Each antecedent-response pair making up the behavioral chain
Example of a behavioral chain
Link 1: See shampoo bottle reach and grab bottle
Link 2: See and feel grasp turn so spout is pointed down
Link 3: See pointed down pull off cap Link 4: See cap off pour shampoo onto hand
Link 5: See shampoo glob in hand replace cap
Link 6: See and feel cap is on return shampoo to shelf
Link 7: See shampoo on shelf spread shampoo glob across hands
Link 8: See shampoo is spread on hands mix shampoo vigorously into hair
Link 9: Feel suds mixed throughout hair rinse suds from hair
Defining respondent target behaviors
Defining respondent target behaviors: People learn through respondent conditioning to associate two
previously unrelated events (a neutral stimulus and a response). The stimulus gains the ability to elicit a
conditioned response (CR) by being repeatedly paired with an unconditioned stimulus (US) that already
elicits that response. The learning of conditioned responses (CR) is the targets of behavior change
Respondent behaviors: Overt or covert (often it is both; fear physically try to escape, emotionally
Designing a program to change a respondent behavior: Must define the behavior in terms of its internal
or external responses (or both). E.g. reducing an individual's covert signs of fear may not reduce their
overt signs of fear.
Which behavior to address first?
Is the new or change behavior likely to:
Lead to reinforcement in the target person's everyday environment?: Learning a new behavior may
reduce problem behavior that results in reinforcement of the new behavior.
Reduce the occurrence of harm or damage?: Some problem behaviors involve self-harm.
Be a prerequisite for learning a skill that enables the person to function better?: E.g. learning numbers
before doing arithmetic
Affect in positive ways important individuals in the client's life?: A disabled person being able to care
Be a behavioral cusp?: A behavior that has benefits beyond its direct effects because it exposes the
person to new and richer environments, learning opportunities and consequences that would not be
available otherwise. E.g. being able to read skill for obtaining more knowledge
Show response generalization?: Altering one behavior leads to similar changes in another unaddressed
response. Usually one that is similar or related to the target behavior. E.g. past tense verbs (generalized
past tense of sit sitted vs sat) Take the place of or interfere with performing a problem behavior?: Rewarding new behavior reduces
How to assess target behaviors
How to assess target behaviors: Need to be able to measure target behavior at different points to see
whether efforts are working: 1) When problem is behavioral deficit; want measure of increase. 2) When
problem is behavioral excess; want measure of decrease. There are several types of data we can use to
Types of data
Types of data: 1) Frequency. 2) Duration. 3) Magnitude. 4) Latency. 5) Quality. 6) Trials-to-criterion. 7)
Frequency: Refers to the number of times the response was observed. Frequency is an appropriate
measure when the behavioral goal involves changing how often the behavior occurs. E.g. frequency of
bed wetting. Characterized by a clear start and end (discrete) and takes about the same amount of time
Duration: Refers to the length of time each instance of the target behavior lasts from start to finish.
Appropriate measurement for target behaviors that last for varying periods of time and are subject to a
goal that involves either increasing or decreasing that time. E.g. studying, playing games.
Magnitude: Refers to the intensity, degree or size of a behavior. E.g. measuring degree of anger on scale
Latency: The amount of time a person takes to initiate the appropriate response to an antecedent. E.g.
assessing the quickness with which a child complies with a teacher's or parent's request.
Quality: Improving how well the person performs a target behavior. E.g. quality of classroom discussions
/ drawing pictures / playing a musical instrument. Quality is often assessed with a rating scale.
Trials-to-criterion: Tallying the number of trials the target person needed to achieve a specific level of
performance. A trial is defined as an 'opportunity to perform a particular behavior in a certain time
period'. The behavior analyst decides in advance what the required level of performance and the
amount of time will be. Trials-to-criterion can evaluate some important issues: 1) Competence for a type
of task. 2) Whether one training method is better than another.
Percentage: The proportion of behaviors or individuals performing behaviors that meet some criterion,
multiplied by 100. Percentages are especially useful measures when people have many opportunities to
respond, or when the opportunities to meet a behavioral criterion vary across time or circumstances.
E.g. compliance with teacher requests because the number of requests each day is likely to vary
(calculate the percentage by dividing the number of compliant behaviors by the number of requests and
multiplying by 100) Issues to keep in mind when collecting data: 1) Often necessary to collect more than one type of data
to reflect changes in a target behavior; e.g. reducing frequency, duration and magnitude. 2) Typically
useful to design and record data on carefully structured data sheets.
Data sheets: Make recording and evaluating data easier and faster.
Strategies for assessing behavior
Observation: Either by someone else, or by themselves (self-monitoring / self observation). Overt target
behaviors typically can and should be accessed directly. Covert behaviors are often assessed indirectly,
supplemented with direct measures.
Direct assessment methods
Direct assessment methods: Observers measure instances of the actual target behavior in a
straightforward manner. Usually by seeing or hearing them. Three ways to directly assess behavior: 1)
While in the same room or setting at the target person. 2) Watching secretly from an adjacent room
(two way mirror). 3) Making a audio/video recording of the behavior and scoring it later. Direct
assessment methods are the preferred approaches for collecting data in applied behavior analysis
programs to change overt behavior.
Structured test of behavior: Specific events are arranged to occur during the test. Operant example:
client asked to perform a series of operant actions to see if a pain condition impairs movement.
Respondent example: a client who is extremely afraid of snakes might be tested by having a therapist
move a caged snake gradually closer (when the client feels uncomfortable, the test