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A-B design – A research design in ABA which includes just one rotation from baseline to treatment phase and then from that we see if the behavior changed in the predicted manner

A-B-A-B Reversal Design – A research design in ABA in which the baseline and treatment phases are implemented twice

ABC Charts – Charts used to record antecedents, behaviors, and consequences

Abstract – A 150-250 word summary of a research article

Abolishing operation – When an event makes a reinforcer or punisher less potent and so less likely to occur

Acceptance techniques – A cognitive behavior modification strategy in which the person comes to accept that which he/she cannot change

Action stage – The stage of change when the person engages in behavior change

Adaptation energy – The ability to handle change/stress/demands

Antecedents – Environmental events or stimuli that trigger a behavior

Anxiety – The anticipation of future threat

Applied Science – The type of science which desires to find solutions to real-world problems

Appraisal – The process of interpreting the importance of a demand and how we might react to it

Attention Focused Exercises – Relaxation occurs when attention is directed to a neutral or pleasant stimulus

Autonomic Nervous System – Regulates functioning of blood vessels, glands, and internal organs such as the bladder, stomach, and heart; consists of Sympathetic and Parasympathetic NS

Awareness training – The stage of habit reversal in which the client must be aware of exactly what the habit is, when it occurs, in what situations, and with whom around  


Backup reinforcers – The regular reinforcers the person has in their life that come to be associated with tokens in a token economy

Baseline Phase – The phase of behavior modification before any strategy or strategies are put into effect; serves as a comparison with the treatment phase

Basic Science – The type of science concerned with the acquisition of knowledge for the sake of the knowledge and nothing else

Behavior – What people do, say, or think/feel

Behavioral assessment – The measurement of a target behavior

Behavioral contract – A written agreement between two people in which at least one of the two have agreed to engage in a specific level of the target behavior

Behavioral deficit – A behavior we want to increase as it is currently either not being performed or being performed not at the desired level.

Behavioral definition – A precise, objective, unambiguous description of the target behavior or a competing behavior

Behavioral excess – A behavior that we want to decrease because it is causing us some type of trouble in our life


Case studies – A detailed description of one person or a small group based on careful observation

Central Nervous System (CNS) – Control center for the nervous system which receives, processes, interprets, and stores incoming sensory information; Consists of the brain and spinal cord

Change – Anything, whether good or bad, that requires us to adapt

Changing-Criterion Design – A research design in ABA in which the performance criteria changes as the subject achieves specific goals

Cognition – a thought

Cognitive behavioral therapy – A type of therapy which focuses on exploring relationships among a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors and seeks to reduce maladaptive cognitions

Cognitive coping skills training – A cognitive behavior modification strategy which teaches social skills, communication, and assertiveness through direct instruction, role playing, and modeling

Cognitive restructuring, also called rational restructuring – A cognitive behavior modification strategy in which maladaptive cognitions are replaced with more adaptive ones

Competing behavior – A behavior which interferes with the successful completion of a target behavior

Competing response – In habit reversal, this is a behavior that is incompatible with the habit and makes it occurrence nearly impossible or difficult

Compromise – When we attempt to find a solution that works for all parties

Conditioning – In respondent conditioning, this is the stage when learning occurs

Conditioned reflexes (Pavlov, 1927) – Reflexes that are dependent on the formation of an association between stimulus and response

Conflict – Arises when we face two or more incompatible demands, opportunities, needs, or goals

Confrontation – When we attack a problem head on

Connectionism – The idea that stimulus and responses were connected by the organism and this lead to learning; according to Thorndike

Contemplation stage – The stage of change when change is seriously considered, but within the next six months

Contingency – When one thing occurs due to another; in terms of enhancing the effectiveness of reinforcers and punishers, it refers to the uniqueness of the consequence to the situation

Continuous recording – When a client is watched continuously throughout the observation period and all occurrences of the behavior are recorded

Control group – The group in an experiment that does not receive the treatment or is not manipulated; it serves as a comparison with the experimental group

Consequence – The outcome of a behavior that either encourages it to be made again in the future or discourages its future occurrence.

Correlational Research ­– A research method which examines the relationship between two variables or two groups of variables

Counterconditioning  – The reversal of previous learning

Covert – Behavior cannot be observed

Criterion – The specific “trigger” for when we advance from one goal to the next

Critical thinking – Our ability to assess claims made by others and make objective judgments that are independent of emotion and anecdote and based on hard evidence


Daily hassles – Petty annoyances that over time take a toll on us

Demand – Anything that has the potential to exceed a person’s resources and cause stress if a solution is not found

Dependent variable – The variable in an experiment that is measured

Descriptive statistics – A type of statistic that provides a means of summarizing or describing data, and presenting the data in a usable form

Desensitization – When the client is exposed to fear producing stimuli in a gradual fashion and according to a fear hierarchy and then uses relaxation techniques to reduce sympathetic nervous system arousal; has two forms – systematic or in vivo

Diaphragmatic breathing – Also called deep breathing; person breathes in a deep, slow rhythmic fashion

Differential reinforcement – When we attempt to get rid of undesirable or problem behaviors by using the positive reinforcement of desirable behaviors

Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA) – When we reinforce the desired behavior and do not reinforce undesirable behavior

Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior (DRI) – This strategy delivers a reinforcer when another behavior is used instead of the problem behavior; we substitute the behavior

Differential Reinforcement of Low Rates of Responding (DRL) – When we want to reduce the occurrence of a behavior, not eliminate it

Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO) – When we deliver a reinforcer contingent on the absence of an undesirable behavior for some period

Direct observation or assessment – Used when the behavior is observed and recorded as it occurs, or in real time

Discriminated behavior – When a behavior is more likely to occur in the presence of the SD and not the SΔ

Discrimination training – Involves the reinforcement of a behavior when one stimulus is present but extinguishing the behavior when a different stimulus is present

Discriminative stimuli (also called a SD) – When cues in the environment bring about a specific behavior

Discussion – In this section of a research article the researcher restates the main findings and hypothesis of the study, offers an interpretation of the findings and what their significance might be, and states strengths and limitations of the study which then allows for a listing of future directions

Distal goals – Goals that are far off in the future

Distancing – When the person chooses not to deal with a situation for some time

Distressors – When bad things cause stress in us


Emotion focused coping (EFC) strategies – Strategies used to manage stress

Emphasizing the positive – When we focus on good things related to a problem and downplay negative ones

Enactive learning – Learning by doing

Establishing operation – When an event makes a reinforcer or punisher more potent and so more likely to occur

Extreme Stressors – Stressors that have the ability to move a person from demand to stress very fast; examples include divorce, catastrophes, and combat

Eustressors – When good things cause stress in us

Exchange rate – How many tokens are needed to purchase a backup reinforce in a token economy

Exclusionary time outs – When the person is removed from the actual location where the problem behavior is occurring

Experimental group – The group in an experiment that does receive the treatment or manipulation

Experiments – A controlled test of a hypothesis in which a researcher manipulates one variable and measures its effect on another variable

Extinction – When something that we do, say, think/feel has not been reinforced for some time  and so the behavior begins to weaken and eventually stops

Extinction burst – When extinction first occurs, the person or animal is not sure what is going on and actually begins to make the response more often (frequency), longer (duration), and more intensely

Extraneous variable – An unseen and unaccounted for factor on the results and specifically our DV; may be the true cause of any change we see


Fading – The gradual removal of a prompt(s) once the behavior continues in the presence of the SD

Fear – The emotional response to a real or perceived threat

Fixed Interval schedule (FI) – A schedule of reinforcement in which we reinforce some set amount of time

Fixed Ratio schedule (FR) – A schedule of reinforcement in which we reinforce some set number of responses

Flooding – A respondent condition technique in which the person is exposed to the feared stimulus at full intensity for a prolonged period

Frustration – When a person is prevented from reaching a goal because something or someone stands in the way

Functional analysis – Designed to test stimuli or consequences that are predicted to be related to the occurrence or nonoccurrence of the behavior; allows for a functional relationship to be drawn

Functional assessment – When we closely scrutinize the antecedents and consequences to see what affects the occurrence or nonoccurrence of a desired or problem behavior, all to maximize how effective our plan/strategies will be

Functional relationship – When we can say a target behavior (DV) has changed due to the use of a procedure/treatment/strategy (the IV) and this relationship has been replicated at least one other time


Gaps – Holes in the scientific literature of a given field that needs to be investigated

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)  – A series of three stages the body goes through when a demand is encountered in the world; includes alarm reaction, resistance, and exhaustion

Generalizability – When a researcher is unable to draw conclusions about his sample and apply them to the population

Generalization training  – When we reinforce behavior across situations until generalization occurs for the stimulus class

Gestural prompt – Making gestures with your body to indicate the correct action the person should engage in

Goal – An objective or result we desire that clearly indicates how our time and physical and psychological energy will be spent

Guided compliance – Physically guiding the person through the activity which is meant to be aversive and in the future he or she should engage in the desire behavior to avoid the discomfort of being guided


Habit – An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/habit)

Habit disorder – When a habit becomes annoying for others due to an increase in frequency, duration, and/or intensity

Hypothesis – A specific, testable prediction


Immediacy – The idea that the quicker you deliver a reinforcer or punisher after a response, the more effective it will be

Independent variable – The variable in an experiment that is manipulated

Indirect assessment or informant methods – Include the use of interviews, checklists, questionnaires, and rating scales to gather information on the target behavior from the person exhibiting the behavior or from knowledgeable others

Inferential statistics – A type of statistics that allows for the analysis of two or more sets of numerical data

Interobserver agreement (also called interrater reliability) – When two people independently observer the same behavior and record that it occurred

Interval Recording – A type of recording method in which you take the observation period and divide it up into shorter periods of time; can be whole or partial

Introduction – The first section of a research article designed to provide a summary of the current literature as it relates to the topic




Laboratory observation – Involves observing people or animals in a laboratory setting

Lapse – When we make a mistake or slip up

Law of Effect (Thorndike, 1905) – The idea that if our behavior produces a favorable consequence, in the future when the same stimulus is present, we will be more likely to make the response again, expecting the same favorable consequence. If our action leads to dissatisfaction, then we will not repeat the same behavior in the future

Learning – Any relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience and practice

Literature review – When we conduct a literature search through our university library or a search engine such as Google Scholar to see what questions have been investigated already and what answers have been found


Magnitude – In terms of enhancing the effectiveness of reinforcers and punishers, it refers to the size of the reinforcer or punisher

Maintenance Phase – The phase of behavior modification which follows the treatment phase and which involves the continued measurement of our behavior to ensure that the strategies we used to bring about meaningful behavioral change stand the test of time and future or unforeseen temptations

Maintenance Problem – A problem during maintenance phase linked to a loss of motivation

Maintenance stage  – The stage of change when change continues after the first goals have been achieved; relapse is possible

Memory – The ability to retain and retrieve information

Mental disorder – “A syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning” (quote from the DSM 5, page 20; American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

Method – The section of a research article in which participants, materials or apparatus, and procedure are described in detail; it is like a cookbook

Modeling – Demonstrating for the person what to do

Motivating operations – When an event make a reinforcer or punisher more or less reinforcing or punishing

Multiple-baseline designs – A research design in ABA which involves use of a baseline and treatment phase for different people, behaviors, or settings


Naturalistic observation – When a scientist studies human or animal behavior in its natural environment

Negative Punishment (NP) – In operant conditioning, this is when something good is taken away or subtracted making a behavior less likely in the future.

Negative Reinforcement (NR) – In operant conditioning, this is when something bad or aversive is taken away or subtracted due to your actions, making it that you will be more likely to make the same behavior in the future when some stimuli presents itself

Nervous habits – Habits which occur when we are in a state of heightened arousal and nervous tension, generally causing no harm though they can be a nuisance

Non-exclusionary time out – When a person is not removed from the situation but cannot partake in the reinforcing activity either


Observation period – The predetermined period of time when you observe behavior

Observational learning – Learning by watching others

Operant conditioning – A type of associate learning which focuses on consequences that follow a response or behavior that we make and whether it makes a behavior more or less likely to occur

Overcorrection procedures – When a person is expected to engage in effortful behavior for an extended period after the occurrence of an undesirable behavior

Overt – Behavior that is observable


Parasympathetic Nervous System – Part of the nervous system that calms the body  down after sympathetic nervous system activation

Peripheral Nervous System – Consists of everything outside the brain and spinal cord; handles the CNS’s input and output; divides into the Somatic and Autonomic NS

Physical prompt – Guiding the person through physical contact to make the correct response

Places – The physical locations where temptations most likely will be present

Postconditioning – In respondent conditioning, this is the stage after learning occurs

Positive practice A form of overcorrection in which a person is made to engage in the correct form of the behavior over and over again

Positive Punishment (PP) – In operant conditioning, if something bad or aversive is given or added, then the behavior is less likely to occur in the future

Positive Reinforcement (PR) – In operant conditioning, if something good is given or added, then the behavior is more likely to occur in the future

Preconditioning – In respondent conditioning, this is the stage before learning occurs

Precontemplative stage – The stage of change when the person is not considering making a change and even resists the idea

Preference assessment – Present several reinforcers to the person and see which one(s) are liked the most

Preparation stage – The stage of change when the person gets ready to change within the next month

Pressure – When we feel forced to speed up, intensify, or shift direction in our behavior

PrimaryIn operant conditioning, refers to reinforcers and punishers that have their effect without having to be learned

Primary appraisal (PA) – When a demand is detected we have to decide if this is something we need to worry about

Problem focused coping (PFC) ­– When we try to find a solution to the demand

Product or Outcome Recording – A type of recording method in which when there is a tangible outcome you are interested in

Programming – A procedure whereby we use prompts, in a temporary way, to establish a generalization

Progressive Muscle Relaxation or tension-release method – When the person systematically tenses and relaxes each of the major muscle groups in the body and so they become more relaxed than in their initial state

Prompts – A stimulus that is added to the situation and increases the likelihood that the desirable response will be made when it is needed

Prompt delay – When you present the SD and then wait for the correct response to be made

Prompt fading – When the prompt is gradually removed as it is no longer needed; can fade within a prompt or across prompts

Proximal goals – Goals that are closer in time

Psychology – The scientific study of behavior and mental processes

Purposive behaviorism – Goal-directed behavior; advanced by Tolman



Reactivity – When the process of recording a behavior causes the behavior to change, even before treatment is applied

Real-time recording – A type of recording method in which you write down the time when the behavior starts and when it ends, and then do this each time the behavior occurs

Reinforcement schedule – In operant conditioning, the rule for determining when and how often we will reinforce a desired behavior

Reinforcer – Anything that makes a behavior more likely to occur in the future

Relapse – When an isolated mistake becomes a pattern of behavior

Replication – Repeating the study to confirm its results

Research design – Our plan of action of how we will go about testing the hypothesis

Resources – Anything we use to help us manage the demand; the exact resources we use will depend on what the demand is

Respondent Discrimination – When the CR is elicited by a single CS or a narrow range of CSs

Respondent Extinction – When the CS is no longer paired with the UCS

Respondent Generalization – When a number of similar CSs or a broad range of CSs elicit the same CR

Response costs – A type of negative punisher in which some amount of a reinforcer is removed when a problem/undesirable behavior is engaged in

Restitution – A type of overcorrection procedure in which an individual is made to restore the environment to a condition that is better than it was before the undesirable behavior occurred

Results – In this section of a research article the researcher states the outcome of the experiment and whether it was statistically significant or not

Rules – Tools that add order, predictability, and reliability to our plan


Schools of thought – A group of people who share the same general theoretical underpinning, use similar research methods, and address most of the same questions

Scientific method – A systematic method for gathering knowledge about the world around us

Secondary or conditioned – In operant conditioning, refers to reinforcers and punishers that must be learned.

Secondary appraisal (SA) – Once we have decided a demand is something to worry about, we then need to figure out what to do about it

Self-blame – When we blame ourselves for the demand and subsequent stress we are experiencing

Self-control – The will power to resist temptation

Self-efficacy – Our sense of self-esteem and competence and feeling like we can deal with life’s problems

Self-imposed Stressors – Stress we impose on ourselves

Self-instructions – Statements you write or say to yourself as positive affirmations and motivational tools

Self-isolation – When a person intentionally removes himself from social situations to avoid having to face a demand

Self-management – Use of behavior modification principles and procedures by an individual to bring about change in their own behavior; Also called self-modification

Self-monitoring – When you monitor your own behavior

Self-regulation – Our ability to carefully consider our actions and the effect they have on others or ourselves, and to make adjustments

Shaping by successive approximations or shaping – When we get a person or animal to make some desired behavior that they would not normally know to make by reinforcing approximations of that behavior gradually

Situations – The conditions during which a temptation is likely to occur

Social desirability – When a participant answers questions on a survey dishonestly so that he/she is seen in a more favorable light

Somatic NS – Allows for voluntary movement by controlling the skeletal muscles and carries sensory information to the CNS

Spontaneous Recovery – When the person or animal tries to make the response again in the future even though it stopped being reinforced in the past (in operant conditioning); When the CS elicits the CR after extinction has occurred in respondent conditioning

Statistical significance – An indication of how confident we are that our results are due to our manipulation or design and not chance

Stimulus class – Antecedents that share similar features and have the same effect on behavior

Stimulus control – When an antecedent has been consistently linked to a behavior in the past it gains control over the behavior

Stimulus discrimination – The process of reinforcing a behavior when a specific antecedent is present and only it is present

Stimulus generalization – When a behavior occurs in the presence of similar, novel stimuli

Strain – The pressure the demand causes; occurs when our resources are insufficient to handle the demand

Stress – Our emotional reaction to a demand when problem focused coping strategies are insufficient in managing it or making it disappear

Stressors – Environmental demands that create a state of tension or threat and require change or adaptation

Subgoals – Waypoints toward the final goal

Surveys – A questionnaire consisting of at least one scale with some number of questions which assess a psychological construct of interest

Sympathetic Nervous System – Involved when a person is intensely aroused; It provides the strength to fight back or to flee (fight-or-flight instinct)


Target behavior – Whatever behavior we want to change

Temptations – Anything or anyone that might lead you to engage in the undesired or problem behavior and not make the desired or target behavior

Tension reduction – When a person engages in behaviors to reduce the stress caused by a demand; may include using drugs or alcohol, eating comfort foods, or watching a funny movie

Termination Stage – The stage of change when the ultimate goal has been achieved but relapse is still possible

Time out – When a person is removed from an activity because they are engaging in an undesirable or problem behavior

Theory – The systematic explanation of a phenomenon

Tokens – Something that is accrued (and accumulated over time) once the target behavior occurs; part of a token economy

Token economy – An individual is provided with something that represents desired reinforcers and takes that “something” and cashes it in later for those reinforcers

Transfer Problem – A problem during maintenance phase linked to a desirable behavior not transferring or generalizing as expected

Treatment Phase – The phase of behavior modification when the strategy or strategies are being used

Trial and error learning – Making a response repeatedly if it leads to success



Variable Interval schedule (VI) – A schedule of reinforcement in which we reinforce a changing or varying amount of time

Variable Ratio schedule (VR) – A schedule of reinforcement in which we reinforce some varying number of responses

Verbal prompt – Telling the person what to do

Vicarious reinforcement – The idea that we can learn by observing others and seeing what the consequences of their actions are; advanced by Bandura


Wishful thinking – When a person hopes that a bad situation goes away or a solution magically presents itself

Withdrawal – When we avoid a situation when other forms of coping are not practical





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Glossary by Lee W. Daffin Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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