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  • Abscissa

    The horizontal reference axis on a graph or chart. It is usually labeled with a scale that represents the passage of time in some form such as minutes, days, observations, or trials.


    Providing an objective demonstration in measurable terms of the effectiveness of given programs. Ex: An increase in reading scores following the introduction of contingency contracting with students.


    The gradual reduction of responses of responsiveness as an organism adjusts to the introduction of new stimuli into the environment. Ex: Sensory adaptation to a bright light; students tuning out a teacher's loud or soft commands where there is no contrast.

    Adaptation Period

    The phase (time period) in any behavioral program during which the subject (or subjects) adjusts to any novel stimuli that have been introduced into the environment. Ex: The time necessary for a class to adapt to observers prior to collection of baseline data.

    Adaptive Behavior

    Behavior that serves to ensure survival or is considered appropriate in specified societal contexts such as school.


    A condition in which cessation of reinforcement (usually physiological) produces physical or physiological problems of abstinence.

    Alternating Treatments Design

    Two or more interventions suspected to effect change are selected and either rotated or placed in a predetermined order such that data can be collected s to the effect each has on the targeted behavior.

    Applied Research

    Research that is directed toward an analysis of variables that can be effective in improving behavior under study. Conducted in natural settings


    Any observable endorsement of behavior.

    Aversive Control

    The withdrawal or presentation of an aversive stimulus, which then maintains or increases the frequency of a response. Three types exist.
    1. Escape, in which the organism terminates the stimulus after it has begun.
    2. Avoidance, in which the organism postpones the beginning of stimuli.
    3. Punishment, in which responses are followed by a stimulus.

    Aversive Stimulus

    Any stimulus that an organism will escape from, avoid, or terminate.

    Back-up Reinforcer

    An object or event that has already demonstrated it reinforcing effect on an individual that is received in exchange for a specific number of tokens, points, or other more generalized reinforcers.


    A stable, usually recoverable, performance (5 or more observations) upon which the effects of experimental variables can be assessed.


    Any act of an organism, either internal or external, that can be observed and /or measured. Can have one of four relationships to the environment.


    When the event must by nature of the situation, occur following a behavior. Ex: Water stops dependent on turning of faucet.


    When the event follows the behavior but need not do so. Reinforcement is generally contingent upon behavior. After reinforcement occurs, this has been established. Ex: If one is asked to turn off the water and does so, the behavior is called this.


    Behavior has nothing to do with the reinforce. Ex: Rubbing a good luck piece does not cause good luck, but is occasionally reinforced by chance.


    When the behavior has no logical relationship to the environment and all stimuli are neutral. Ex: Tuneless whistling while daydreaming.

    Behavior Modification

    The changing of behavior (increasing or decreasing) using a schedule of reinforcement (positive or negative) and/or non-reinforcement. The programmed use of scientific techniques used to produce observable changes in behavior.

    Behavior Therapy

    The application of learning theory techniques for the purpose of changing maladaptive behavior.

    Behavioral Approach

    An approach in which values and/or ideas, are defined into directly observable and measurable behaviors. Assumption: Most behavior is learned.

    Behavioral Contrast

    A phenomenon
    when 2 behaviors are initially reinforced at equal levels and then 1 behavior stops being reinforced. Then the behavior that is no longer reinforced decreases in frequency whole the behavior that continues to be reinforced increases in frequency

    Behavioral Dimensions

    Measurable descriptive characteristics (Parameters) that qualify particular aspects of the performance, such as frequency, rate, intensity, duration, topography, and accuracy.

    Behavioral Goal

    The specification of the set of responses to be emitted by the subject at the completion of a given behavior modification program. (Behavioral objective)


    using operant conditioning to teach a complex response by linking together less complex skills. Child offered candy, says thank you, smile and you're welcome, hug.

    Changing Criterion Design

    A design that gradually changes the criterion for reinforcement.

    Cognitive Behavior Modification

    The application of behavioral principles and techniques of behavior therapy to problems of a primarily cognitive nature.

    Conditioned Reinforcer

    a stimulus that gains its reinforcing power through its association with a primary reinforcer; also known as a secondary reinforcer. Money is one of these because it has become the reward.

    Conditioned Stimulus

    Neutral stimulus that, through repeated association with an unconditioned stimulus, begins to elicit a conditioned response


    When a neutral stimulus acquires reinforcing properties through temporal association with another reinforcer.

    Confounding Variables

    Variables that are operating in an experimental study, which make the effects of the experimental manipulation on the independent variable difficult to evaluate precisely.


    To apply consequences (reinforcement) following the occurrence of behavior.


    The relationship between the behavior of an organism and environmental events (generally reinforcing) that follow the behavior and either increase or decrease the probability of similar behavior in the future.

    Contingency Contract

    A written contract specifying subsequent behavioral contingencies between persons involved. Ex: Completion of school assignments will result in money and special privileges from parents and free time in school.

    Contingency Control

    The ability to manipulate the environmental consequences of a given behavior in order to achieve a specific behavioral goal.


    The relationship between a specific response and environmental consequence is said to be contingent if the consequence follows the behavior and subsequently has the effect of increasing, maintaining, decreasing, or eliminating behavior.

    Continuous Field

    A continuum of stimuli

    Continuous Response

    A response that does not have a clearly discriminable beginning or end.


    Provides written documentation regulating contingencies.


    Structuring responses that are incompatible one another.


    Specification of a predetermined level of behavioral performance that is to be achieved. These are used to specify goals and to evaluate the success of behavioral programs.


    A stimulus used to help an individual remember to produce any specified response, which may then be reinforced.

    Dependent Variable

    A phenomenon that varies in any way (appears, disappears, or changes) as a function of any application, removal, or variation in other variables (independent). Usually monitored or measured in behavior modification studies.


    The removal of the occurrence of a stimulus


    A process of eliminating anxiety-stimuli through extinction and reconditioning. The process generally involves three operations: 1. training muscle relaxation, 2. constructing anxiety hierarchies ie arranging specific stimuli from least to most anxiety provoking and 3. counter-posing relaxation and anxiety-evoking stimuli from the hierarchies.

    Differential Punishment

    The extinguishing of certain behaviors while others are being reinforced.

    Differential Reinforcement

    The strengthening of certain behaviors while others are being extinguished. A programmed contingency whereby specified responses are reinforced while others are not.

    Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA)

    A procedure in which a reinforcer follows a behavior that is an alternative to a targeted behavior.

    Differential Reinforcement of High Rates (DRH)

    A schedule that involves the selective contingent reinforcement of a grouping of responses that occur in rapid succession. High rates are differentially reinforced while low rates are not.

    Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible (DRI)

    A procedure in which a reinforcer follows a response (usually a physical response) in compatible with a targeted behavior.

    Differential Reinforcement of Low Rates (DRL)

    A schedule in which responses that are spaced relatively far apart in time are selectively reinforced.

    Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviors (DRO)

    A procedure in which a reinforcer follows any response an individual makes, except for one particular response. Thus, the individual receives scheduled reinforcement except when he engages in a particular specified behavior. This procedure results in a decrease of the specified behavior.


    Any observable consequence to behavior defined negatively by the organism receiving it.

    Discrete Stimuli

    Separate presentation of stimuli

    Discriminative Stimulus

    An environmental event that sets the occasion for responses that are followed by reinforcement. The probability of the response is high only when certain environmental events are present. When this is present, specific responses may then be reinforced.

    Eliciting Stimuli

    Environmental events that regularly precede responses. They elicit relatively fixed and stereotyped responses. Ex: The bell in Pavlov's classic dog experiment.


    A complex response elicited and occasioned by environmental conditions and composed of both operants and respondents. Ex: Love or sadness.


    The sum total of an organism's surroundings (stimuli)

    Errorless Discrimination Procedure

    Teaching the acquisition of a discrimination by carefully arranging a sequence of discriminative stimuli so that only correct responses are occasioned.

    Event Sampling

    An observational procedure in which the frequency of duration of a specific iscrete behavior, such as times tardy or number of pages completed, is recorded over a specific extended period of time. (Typically a class day).


    A procedure in which the reinforcement for a previously reinforced behavior is discontinued. The process whereby a conditioned response is reduced to its preconditioned level or strength, often approaching or reaching zero magnitude or frequency. The process involves continuing presentation of the conditioned stimulus without any further pairing with the unconditioned stimulus. With operant responses, this results when responding is no longer followed by reinforcement.


    The gradual removal of discriminative stimuli such as cues and prompts.


    The number of occurrences per given time period.

    Functional Analysis

    The determination of the external variables of which behavior is a function.

    Functional Relation

    A relation in which the occurrence of event B consistently follows the occurrence of event A or is dependent upon the previous occurrence of event A.

    Functional Relationship

    A lawful relationship between two variables. In behavior modification, a dependent variable and a given procedure are functionally related if the behavior systematically varies as a function of the application of the procedure.


    Responding to two or more discriminatively different stimuli as if they were the same.

    Stimulus Generalization

    The spread of the effects of reinforcement (or of other operations) in the presence of one stimulus to other stimuli that differ from the original stiulus along one or more dimensions.

    Response Generalization (induction)

    the spread of the effects of reinforcement to responses outside of a specific response may be accompanied by other responses that are similar but not identical to the reinforced response.

    Generalization Training

    A procedure designed to facilitate the occurrence of generalization.

    Generalized Reinforcer

    A conditioned reinforcer that is effective over a wide range of deprivation conditions as a result of having been paired with a variety of previously established reinforcers.

    Group Contingencies

    Establishing contingencies for a defined group that result in both positive and negative outcomes.


    A gradual decline in the magnitude of a respondent over repeated occurrences. Ex: a nurse's aversion to the sight of blood decreases as she is exposed to repeated viewing of open wounds.


    Matching the behavior of a model.

    Incompatible Behavior

    Any two or more behaviors that, by the very nature of one, cannot exist with the other. Sometimes the term is used to include not only behavior that cannot occur simultaneously with another, but also behavior that interferes with other behavior. Ex: Speaking and being quiet.

    Incompatible Response

    A response whose occurrence precludes the simultaneous occurrence of another response. Ex: A musician cannot be both flat and sharp at the same time.


    Not applying the previously specified consequences to the occurrences of a behavior, applying the consequences when the behavior has not occurred, applying inappropriate consequences or applying appropriate and inappropriate consequences simultaneously.

    Independent Variable

    The factor purposely manipulated in a behavior modification program to ascertain its relationship with the dependent variable. Sometimes thought of as the "cause" of the "effect" on the dependent measure.

    Interresponse Reinforcement

    The amount of time that passes between two responses.


    The time between the occurrence of the stimulus and the occurrence of the response.

    Learning History

    The sum of an individual's behaviors that have been conditioned or modified as a result of environment events.


    Each unit of a chain, composed of a discriminative stimulus, response, and a reinforcer.


    A technique whereby the behavior that is to be taught is demonstrated for the learner and any semblance of the goal behavior is initially rewarded. The criterion for reinforcement is then gradually increased until the goal behavior is obtained. Sometimes no shaping is required.

    Multiple Baseline Design

    An experimental design, usually single subject that involves: 1. Obtaining base rates on several dependent behaviors. 2. Applying the independent variable to one of the dependent behaviors until it is substantially changed while the other dependent behaviors are left free to vary.
    3. Applying the independent variable to a second dependent variable as in N0. 2. This procedure is continued until it is demonstrated that each behavior systematically changes when the independent variable is applied to it.

    Negative Reinforcer

    A stimulus whose removal, if paired with the occurrence of a behavior, will increase the probability of occurrence of the behavior. Many times the term aversive stimulus is used in place of negative reinforcer.

    Neutral Stimuli

    All those environmental events that at any given moment do not elicit any behavioral change, whether they precede, accompany, or follow responses.


    Any behavior that interferes or is incompatible with previously defined situational expectations.


    Behavior consistent with definitional classes of behavior previously defined.


    A behavior emitted by an organism that operates on or changes the environment in a very particular way.

    Operant Behavior

    Behavior that is controlled by consequences.

    Operant Conditioning

    The changing of the frequency of an occurrence of a behavior by modifying the consequences of the behavior

    Operant Level

    The strength of an operant before any known reinforcement; the unconditioned level of an operant (response), or the rate at which responses occur before they have been reinforced. Generally, baseline or base rate recording is a record of the operant level.

    Operant Reinforcement

    The potential of operants to produce events which will strengthen their future occurrence; following operant behavior with consequences of a reinforcing nature.


    The vertical reference axis on a graph. In behavior modification, the ordinate is usually labeled with a scale that measures the dependent behavior, for example, frequency, percentage of responses, or rate.


    Procedures used to teach correct behaviors when inappropriate behaviors are exhibited.

    Restitution overcorrection

    involves returning the environment to its original state.

    Positive-practice overcorrection

    requires demonstration of the appropriate behavior in an exaggerated manner or engaging in the behavior for and extended period of times.


    Alternation of responses usually found during the process of extinction


    The act of associating one stimulus with another. (combining primary reinforcers with secondary reinforcers).

    Pavlovian Conditioning

    The same as Respondent Conditioning


    That which rewards the occurrence of a behavior.

    Positive Reinforcement

    A stimulus that, when presented as a consequence of a response, results in an increase or maintenance of that response.

    Premack Principle

    The principle that contingent access to high frequency behaviors serves as a reinforcer for the performance of low frequency behaviors.

    Primary Reinforcers

    Reinforcing stimuli that have the effect of maintaining or perpetuating life, such as food, water, elimination, and warmth.


    A phase in a behavior modification experiment designed to test the effect of a given procedure.

    Programmed Instruction

    The selection and arrangement of educational content based upon principles of human learning.


    An auxiliary discriminative stimulus that is applied to help occasion as given response. Usually faded before the terminal goal is judged as having been achieved.

    Punishing Stimulus

    A contingent stimulus that, when presented, results in a reduction in the occurrence of the dependent behavior.


    The potential of all operants to produce events that will weaken their future occurrence. There are two types: Positive and Negative.

    Positive Punishment

    Those events that will weaken an operant's future occurrence by the presentation of stimuli

    Negative Punishment

    Those events that will weaken an operant's future occurrence by the removal of stimuli.

    Rate of Responding

    The number of occurrences per unit time of the response.


    A physical response (behavior) mediated by the autonomic nervous system.


    The contingent use of a stimulus resulting in an increase or maintenance of behavior. All operants have the potential to produce events that will strengthen their future occurrence. There are 2 types.

    Reinforcement Density

    Frequency or rate with which responses are reinforced. The lower the ratio or shorter the interval required by a give reinforcement schedule, the denser the reinforcement.

    Reinforcement History

    The sum total of an organism's past.


    A stimulus, the contingent use of which results in the increase or maintenance of the dependent behavior. The stimulus will increase the probability of the response which precedes it.

    Reinforcing Incompatible Behavior

    A behavioral procedure that increases the occurrence of a behavior or behaviors that coexist with another, usually "undesired" behavior.


    Refers to consistency of measurement. It is usually calculated by comparing how well two or more independent observers agree among themselves. Should be reported for each phase of a single-subject design.

    Reliability formula

    Calculated and reported in percentages by dividing the number of agreements by the number of agreements plus disagreements and then multiplying the fraction by one hundred.


    To repeat an experimental procedure or finding.


    A regular response from all normal organisms of the same species to the same eliciting stimulus. Ex: salivation

    Respondent Behavior

    All respondents are a function of antecedent stimulus events.

    Respondent Conditioning

    (Classical or Pavlovian) The process whereby eliciting stimuli increase the frequency of respondents (usually a physiological change). A neutral stimulus, when associated repeatedly with an unconditioned stimulus which reliably elicits a specific response, comes to elicit a "new" response which is similar in some respect to that produced originally by the unconditioned stimulus.


    A physical reaction in time and space to an environmental event generally synonymous with behavior and , in behavioral research, both observable and measurable. Ex: fines.

    Response Cost

    A procedure in which there is contingent withdrawal of specified amounts of available reinforcers.

    Response Differentiation

    The process whereby reinforcement alters some specific property of an operant such as its duration, intensity, or topography; a procedure that reinforces a subset of specific behavior, conforming to specified behavioral dimensions.

    Reversal Procedure

    A technique that involves the removal of the procedure in order to test the effectiveness of the procedure.


    The process whereby a reinforcer temporarily ceases to strengthen an operant. A reduction in performance occurs generally after a large amount of reinforcement.


    A pattern on a response record that is characterized by a sequence of positively accelerating curves.

    Schedule of Reinforcement

    The rule followed by the environment in determining which among the many occurrences of a response will be reinforced. Include 3 different types: ratio, interval, and mixed.

    Ratio Schedule of Reinforcement

    A schedule in which reinforcement is made contingent upon the emission of a number of responses before one response is reinforced.

    Interval Schedule of Reinforcement

    A schedule in which reinforcement is made contingent upon the passage of time before the response is reinforced.

    Mixed Schedules of Reinforcment

    Combinations of interval and ratio schedules. Most school and home reinforcement, of necessity is mixed.


    Taking the behaviors that the organism already has in his repertoire and reinforcing those that are similar to the goal behavior, gradually requiring the organism's behavior be more and more similar to the goal behavior to be reinforced. This is continued until the goal behavior is obtained. New behaviors may be developed by systematic reinforcement of successive approximations toward a specified goal.

    Single Subject Experimental Designs

    Research designs developed for evaluating the effects of one or more independent variables on the behavior of a single organism.

    Social Reinforcer

    A conditioned reinforcing stimulus mediated by another individual within a social context.

    Spontaneous Recovery

    The reappearance of a response-previously eliminated by means of an extinction procedure-following a time interval without any intervening reinforced responses.


    An environmental event.

    Stimulus Change

    A behavioral procedure that employs discriminative stimuli, or stimuli that occasions or inhibit specific behaviors.

    Stimulus Control

    After an operant has been reinforced in the presence of a particular stimulus a number of times, that stimulus comes to control the operant. Control of this sort is achieved when responses are reinforced in the presence of a specified stimulus and not others and the stimulus controls the probability that the response will be emitted.

    Stimulus Delta

    A stimulus in the presence of which a given response is not reinforced. This kind of discriminative stimulus is said to be established when, after several pairings with the occurrence or nonoccurrence of reinforcement, its presence or absence is accompanied by reliable changes in response.

    Stimulus Deprivation

    The process whereby the reinforcing power of a stimulus is restored by depriving the organism of it for a period of time.

    Stimulus Discrimination

    The process whereby an operant is emitted only in the presence of certain stimuli.

    Stimulus Overload

    When a response decreases in frequency because of too large a frequency or magnitude of reinforcement, stimulus overload has occurred.

    Subject Confounding Variables

    Subject characteristics (demographic, previous learning history, and present behaviors) that have not been controlled in an experiment but may effect changes in the occurrences of the dependent variable. Single-subject designs control for subject confounding variables by comparing the subject's performance under one condition with his performance under other conditions.

    Subset of Behavior

    The group of simple response components that compose a more complex behavior.

    Successive Approximations

    Behavioral elements or subsets, each of which more and more closely resembles the specified terminal behavior.

    Superstitious Behavior

    Behavior that is not based on contingencies that are actually in existence but is reinforced by chace. Ex: A child might wish on a star for a bicycle and believe that his wish caused him to get it for his birthday.

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