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Module 7: Advanced Operant Conditioning Procedures: Antecedent Focused

Module Overview

In Module 6, we discussed basic operant conditioning principles, respondent conditioning, and observational learning, upon which the advanced principles to be discussed in Modules 7-9 are built. The way we will tackle strategies is to examine those that can be used on the antecedents, those that affect the behavior, and those that alter the consequences. To start, recall that antecedents are the stimuli that lead to our behavior. We have seen this presented as S –> R –> C or A –> B –> C. The frameworks are the same. S and A are stimuli and antecedents and refer to environmental or internal causes of our behavior. R and B are the behavior(s) we are making and can include both the desirable behavior and any problem behavior(s). C is the consequence(s) of our behavior. When coming up with a treatment plan, you will likely use at least one for all three components. Antecedents are especially important because if you have all the right triggers or cues in place, you are more likely to make the desired behavior and avoid making undesirable ones.

To that end, we will engage in a brief discussion of goal setting again and then stimulus control procedures, transfer of stimulus control, self-instructions, and social support. These are umbrella strategies, and most have several under them. Practice makes perfect, and so at the end of the module, we will do just that using each. Take your time going through them and ask questions should you have any.


Module Outline


Module Learning Outcomes

  • Restate the importance of goal setting and clarify its use at the antecedent stage.
  • Describe ways to manipulate antecedents and elicit desirable behavior.
  • Contrast uses of discrimination and generalization in behavior modification.
  • Discuss the utility of prompts and fading.
  • Discuss the usefulness of programming.
  • Clarify how self-instructions can be used to bring about behavior change.
  • Discuss the benefit of social support for behavior modification.
  • Choose the correct strategy to use in practice scenarios or perform the indicated action.


7.1. Goal Setting Revisited


Section Learning Objectives

  • Clarify how goal setting can be used at the antecedent stage to elicit the desired behavior.


We first introduced the concept of goal motivation in Section 4.2 and discussed proximal and distal goals. The concepts are being brought up again because they can be applied to antecedent manipulations as well. Later in this module we will discuss self-instructions, which you can likely figure out are instructions that we say to ourselves. We will also discuss antecedent manipulations to include having a cue to engage in the good behavior. For both of these strategies, whether telling yourself or leaving a post-it reminder, you can increase the success of your plan if you are ever mindful of your goals. Have you ever seen the Yoplait commercial with the “itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini” that the woman (Ali Raymer) wants to fit into for summer? She hangs it up on her wall as a constant reminder of what her final goal is. Of course, she has subgoals along the way, but knowing what you ultimately want to achieve can motivate you in those tough times. Check out the video if you have never seen it:


 You can take the same approach no matter what your end/distal goal is. Actually, you can post reminders of your proximal goals too. One great example of how to do this was given in Module 4.2 for running. I would almost propose that some end goals necessitate proximal goals or else, the final goal will seem too much to achieve. What if you want to lose 100 pounds? The bikini on the wall may be a bit too much knowing you have a long way to go. How many sizes will you have to drop along the way to fit into it? In this case, the proximal goals make the distal goal more manageable. Setting your first goal at losing 10 pounds is doable and will motivate you. Then set your next goal at losing 25 lbs. and so forth. Eventually, all of your subgoals will add up to the total weight loss of 100 lbs. Patience is a virtue, and patience is more practical when the goal is 10 lbs. and not 100. Post reminders of your end goal, current distal goal, and progress to date. Having these reminders/updates in a visible location can remind you to keep engaging in the desirable behavior and in a way, serve as consequences too. If you look up at your board and see that you have lost 25lbs. on the road to 100, you will feel pride (a PR) and friends and family may even compliment you (also PRs). Also, the actual weight loss and movement into smaller sizes for clothes serves as NRs. How so? You are taking away something aversive, i.e. the excess weight, that makes the behavior of working out, eating healthy, getting sleep, etc. more likely to occur in the future. It will help you to deal with temptations as they arise too.

Keep this in mind as you develop your own treatment plan, or if in the future, you are working with others to develop behavior modification plans.


Key Point – Knowing and revisiting your goals (and your progress to date) is a great way to ensure you engage in the desirable behavior and avoid making any problem behaviors.


7.2. Stimulus Control Procedures: Antecedent Manipulations


Section Learning Objectives

  • Define discriminative stimuli.
  • Clarify how stimuli or antecedents become cues.
  • List and describe the 6 antecedent manipulations.


One critical step is to exert control over the cues for the behavior and when these cues bring about a specific behavior, we call them discriminative stimuli (also called a SD). So, what makes an antecedent a cue for a behavior? Simply, the behavior is reinforced in the presence of the specific stimulus and not reinforced when the stimulus or antecedent is not present.

The strategies we will discuss center on two ideas: we can modify an existing antecedent or create a new one. With some abusive behaviors centered on alcohol, drugs, nicotine, or food, the best policy is to never even be tempted by the substance. If you do not smoke the first cigarette, eat the first donut, take the first drink, etc. you do not have to worry about making additional problem behaviors. It appears that abstinence is truly the best policy.

But what if this is not possible or necessary? The following strategies could be attempted:

  • Create a Cue for the Desirable Behavior – If we want to wake up in the morning to go the gym, leave your gym clothes out and by the bed. You will see them when you wake up and be more likely to go to the gym. If you are trying to drink more water, take a refillable bottle with you to classes. Hiking around a campus all day can be tough and so having your water bottle will help you to stay hydrated.
  • Remove a Cue for the Undesirable or Problem Behavior – In this case, we are modifying an existing antecedent/cue. Let’s say you wake up in the morning, like I do, and get on your phone to check your favorite game. You initially only intend to spend a few minutes doing so but an hour later you have done all the leveling up, resource collecting, candy swiping, structure building, etc. that you can and now, you have taken your time to do a work out. In this case, the phone use is a problem behavior because it interferes or competes with the execution of the desirable behavior of going to the gym. What do you do? There is a simple solution – don’t leave your phone by your bed. If it is not in the room, it cannot be a reminder for you to engage in the problem behavior. The phone usage in the morning already exists as a behavior and the phone serves as a cue for playing games. You enjoy playing the games and so it is reinforcing. If the phone is not present then the behavior of playing the game cannot be reinforced and the cue loses its effectiveness. In the case of water, if we do not carry tea with us we cannot drink it, but can only drink our water bottle, thereby meeting our goal.
  • Increasing the Energy Needed to Make a Problem Behavior – Since the problem behavior already exists and has been reinforced in the past, making its future occurrence likely in the presence of the stimulus, the best bet is to make it really hard to make this unwanted behavior. Back to the gym example. We already know that our phone is what distracts us and so we remove the stimuli. One thing we could do is place the phone in the nightstand. Out of sight. Out of mind, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Since we know the phone is in the nightstand, we could still pull it out in the morning. If that occurs, our strategy to remove the cue for phone usage fails. We can still remove it, but instead of placing it in the nightstand, place it in the living room and inside our school bag. So now it is out of sight, out of mind, but also far away which will require much more physical energy to go get than if it was in the nightstand beside us. Think about this for a minute. The strategy literally means that we expend more energy to do the bad behavior, than…
  • Decreasing the Energy Needed to Engage in the Desirable Behavior – …we would for the good behavior. Having our clothes by our bed is both a cue to go to the gym, but also, by having them all arranged in one place, we don’t have to spend the extra time and energy running around our bedroom looking for clothes. We might also place our gym bag and keys by the door which saves us energy early in the morning when we are rushing out to the gym. What about for drinking water? Instead of carrying a water bottle with us we could just drink water from the water fountains at school. Okay. But let’s say that you are standing in the hallway and the nearest water fountain is all the way up the hallway and near the door to exit the building. You can walk up the hall, bend over, push the button, drink the water, remove your hand from the fountain, walk back down the hall, re-enter the classroom, and then take your seat. Not too bad, right? WRONG. If you had your water bottle in your backpack, you would only need to reach down, pick it up, open the bottle, take a drink, cap the bottle, and sit it back down on the floor or on the desk. You never have to leave your seat which means you are making far fewer behaviors in the overall behavior of drinking water, and so expending much less energy. Now you can use this energy for other purposes such as taking notes in class and raising your hand to ask a question.


Another way you can look at antecedents is to focus on the consequences. Wait. What? Shouldn’t that be under Module 9? Not really. We might focus on the motivating properties of the consequence so that in the future, we want to make the behavior when the same antecedent is present. Notice the emphasis on want. Remember, you are enhancing the motivating properties. How do we do this? (Note – We discussed this in Section 6.2.3 and examples were provided in Table 6.1.)

  • First, we could use what are called establishing operations or when we enhance the reinforcing value of the consequence of a desirable behavior so that the same behavior occurs in the future when the same antecedent is present. Weight loss is really tough for most especially when there are so many yummy temptations out there. One solution is to find a cookbook or at least recipes that you really, really like. This will create excitement when dinner time comes and make it more likely that you stay on your diet…and want to. You have enhanced the reinforcing value of eating healthy and so in the future when your significant other says “What’s for dinner?” you can pull out your handy dandy recipe book/box/internet site and cook up something wonderful…and healthy. How about grocery shopping? If you want to eat healthy, don’t go to the store hungry or in a state of food deprivation. If you do, you are creating an establishing operation, but this time for the undesirable behavior. Think about that. If you can enhance the reinforcing value of a desirable behavior you can do so for an undesirable one too. Be careful.
  • Second, we could use an abolishing operation and reduce the reinforcing value of an undesirable behavior. In the case of buying healthy foods, junk food is less desirable if we go to the grocery store full, or in a state of satiety. Do you really want to avoid eating pizza late night? Look up the nutritional information most every restaurant has available on their website or onsite. It is alarming just how calorie dense and fattening some of our favorites are. Ignorance is not bliss in this case. If you are on a weight loss program, recording your calories via an app like Fitbit or MyFitnessPal is not only a smart strategy, but necessary. Weight loss occurs when we take in less calories then we expend. Knowledge is power…and the power to make better choices.


If you have any further confusion on establishing and abolishing operations, please see Module 6 and Table 6.1.


7.3. Stimulus Control: Discrimination and Generalization


Section Learning Objectives

  • Define and exemplify stimulus control.
  • Define stimulus discrimination.
  • Define and describe discrimination training.
  • Define and clarify why stimulus generalization is necessary.
  • Describe generalization training and the strategies that can be used.


7.3.1. Stimulus Control

When an antecedent has been consistently linked to a behavior in the past, it has gained stimulus control over the behavior.  It is now more likely to occur in the presence of this specific stimulus or a stimulus class, defined as antecedents that share similar features and have the same effect on behavior. Consider the behavior of hugging someone. Who might you hug? A good answer is your mother. She expects, and appreciates, hugs. Your mother is an antecedent to which hugging typically occurs. Others might include your father, sibling(s), aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, spouse, and kids. These additional people fall under the stimulus class and share the similar feature of being loved ones. You could even include your bff. What you would not do is give the cashier at Walmart a hug. That would just be weird.

Do you stop when you get to a red octagonal sign? Probably and the Stop sign has control over your behavior. In fact, you don’t even have to think about stopping. You just do so. It has become automatic for you. The problem is that many of the unwanted behaviors we want to change are under stimulus control and happen without us even thinking about them. These will have to be modified for our desirable behavior to emerge. This is where cues can help, or even self-instructions, discussed later. Adding new antecedents right before the old ones occur is crucial to do. So, before you pick up that bag of chips in the grocery store, remind yourself to look at the back of the bag at how many calories are in each serving. I mean, really, who eats just one serving?


7.3.2. Stimulus Discrimination

We have established that we will cease all movement of our vehicle at a red octagonal stop sign and without thinking. A reasonable question to ask is why don’t we do this at a blue octagonal sign (ignoring the fact that none exist). Stimulus discrimination is the process of reinforcing a behavior when a specific antecedent is present and only when it is present. We experience negative reinforcement when we stop at the red octagonal sign and not a sign of another color, should a person be funny and put one up. The NR in this case is avoidance of something aversive such as an accident or ticket, making it likely that we will obey this traffic sign in the future. Discrimination training involves the reinforcement of a behavior when one stimulus is present but extinguishing the behavior when a different stimulus is present. From the example above, the red stop sign is reinforced but the blue one is not.

So in discrimination training we have two stimuli:

  • The SD or discriminative stimulus whose behavior is reinforced.
  • and a SΔ (S-delta) whose behavior is not reinforced and so is extinguished.

When a behavior is more likely to occur in the presence of the SD and not the SΔ, we call this a discriminated behavior. And this is where stimulus control comes in. The discriminated behavior should be produced by the SD only. In terms of learning experiments, we train a pigeon to peck an oval key but if it pecks a rectangular one, no reinforcer is delivered.


7.3.3. Stimulus Generalization

As a stimulus can be discriminated, so too can it be generalized. Stimulus generalization is when a behavior occurs in the presence of similar, novel stimuli and these stimuli can fall on a generalization gradient. Think of this as an inverted u-shaped curve. The middle of the curve represents the stimulus that we are training the person or animal to respond to. As you move away from this stimulus, to the left or right, the other stimuli become less and less like the original one. So near the top of the inverted U, a red oval or circle will be like a red octagon but not the same. Near the bottom of the curve you have a toothbrush that has almost zero similarity to a stop sign.

In behavior modification, we want to promote generalization meaning that if we teach someone how to make a desirable response in a training situation, we want them to do that in all relevant environments where that behavior can occur, whether that be in a classroom, at home at the dinner table or in their bedroom, on the playground at recess, at the park, with the grandparents, etc. This is called generalization training and is when we reinforce behavior across situations until generalization occurs for the stimulus class. The desirable behavior should generalize from the time with a therapist or applied behavior analyst and to all other situations that matter. To make this happen you could/should:

  • Always reinforce when the desirable behavior is made outside of training. By doing this, the desirable behavior is more likely.
  • Teach other people to reinforce the desirable behavior such as teachers and caregivers. The therapist cannot always be with the client and so others must take control and manage the treatment plan. But be sure they are trained, understand what to reinforce, and know what the behavioral definition is.
  • Use natural contingencies when possible. Let’s say you are trying to teach social skills to a severely introverted client. In training, she does well and you reinforce the desirable behavior. Armed with new tactics for breaking the ice with a fellow student in class, she goes to class the next day and strikes up a conversation about the weather or the upcoming test. The fellow student’s response to her, and the continuation of the conversation, serve as reinforcers and occur naturally as a byproduct of her initiating a conversation. Another great example comes from a student of mine who was trying to increase her behavior of eating breakfast before class. She discovered that she felt more alert and energetic when she ate breakfast then when she did not, which are positive reinforcers, and naturally occurring. In fact, she was so happy about this, she jumped four goals and went from her initial goal of eating before class two times a week, to eating breakfast 6-7 times a week. Her behavior generalized beyond simply eating before class to eating breakfast every day when she woke up. It should be noted that her distal goal was 5 days, so in her first week of treatment she had already exceeded this goal. Way to go.
  • Practice making the desirable response in other environments during training. You can achieve this by imagining these environments, role playing, or setting up the environments to some extent.
  • Related to the previous strategy, use common stimuli that are present in other environments as much as possible. An example could be a stuffed animal that a child has at home. Or have the special education teacher bring the child’s desk to the training environment and have them sit in it.
  • Encourage the client to use cues to make the desirable response outside of the training environment. These are reminders to engage in the correct behavior and can be any of the antecedent manipulations already discussed or the upcoming discussion of self-instructions.


Notice that right before I defined generalization training, I placed the word ‘relevant’ in italics. Why is that? We may not need to generalize to every situation or place. Here is an example. Say your behavior modification project is to go to bed earlier so you can feel more rested the next day for class. You do this from late August or early September through early to late May, depending on how your school runs. But from May to August, you are not in school, back at home resting, and really don’t have to worry about the early bedtime. Your behavior of going to bed earlier (and not staying up to work all night) does not need to generalize to home or the summertime as well. Keep this in mind.


7.4. Transfer of Stimulus Control: Prompting and Fading


Section Learning Objectives

  • Define prompts.
  • List, describe, and exemplify the four types.
  • Define fading.
  • List and describe the two major types of fading and any subtypes.


Another great strategy that can be used is what is called prompts, or a stimulus that is added to the situation and increases the likelihood that the desirable response will be made when it is needed. The response is then reinforced. There are four main types of prompts:

  • Verbal – Telling the person what to do
  • Gestural – Making gestures with your body to indicate the correct action the person should engage in
  • Modeling – Demonstrating for the person what to do
  • Physical – Guiding the person through physical contact to make the correct response


These are all useful and it is a safe bet to say that you have experienced all of them at some point. How so? Let’s say you just started a job at McDonald’s. You were hired to work the cash register and take orders. On your first day you are assigned a trainer and she walks you through what you need to do. She might give you verbal instructions as to what needs to be done and when, and how, to work the cash register. As you are taking your first order on your own, you cannot remember which menu the Big Mac meal fell under. She might point in the right area which would be making a gesture. Your trainer might even demonstrate the first few orders before you take over so that you can model or imitate her later. And finally, if you are having problems, she could take your hand and touch the Big Mac meal key, though this may be a bit aversive for most and likely improper. The point is that the trainer could use all these prompts to help you learn how to take orders from customers. Consider that the prompts are in a sort of order from the easiest or least aversive (verbal) to the hardest or most aversive (physical). This will be important in a bit.

It is also prudent to reinforce the person when they engage in the correct behavior. If you told the person what to do, and they do it correctly, offer praise right away. The same goes for them complying with your gesture, imitating you correctly, or subjecting themselves to a physical and quite intrusive or aversive prompt.

Prompts are not a part of everyday life. Yes, you use them when you are in training, but after a few weeks, your boss expects you to take orders without even a verbal prompt. To get rid of prompts, you can either fade or delay the prompts. Prompt fading is when the prompt is gradually removed as it is no longer needed. Fading within a prompt means that you use just one prompt and once the person has the procedure down, you stop giving them a reminder or nudge. Maybe you are a quick study and the trainer only needs to demonstrate the correct procedure once (modeling). The trainer would simply discontinue use of the prompt. You can also use what is called fading across prompts. This is used when two or more prompts are needed. Maybe you are trying to explain an algebraic procedure to your child who is gifted in math. You could start with a verbal prompt and then move to gestural or modeling if they have a bit of an issue. Once the procedure is learned, you would not use any additional prompts. You are fading from least to most intrusive. But your other child is definitely not math oriented. In this case, modeling would likely be needed first and then you could drop down to gestural and verbal. This type of fading across prompts moves from most to least intrusive.

Finally, prompt delay can be used and is when you present the SD and then wait for the correct response to be made. You delay delivering any prompts to see if the person engages in the desirable behavior. If the person does, then no prompt is needed, but if not, then you use whichever prompt is appropriate at the time. For instance, you might tell your child to do the next problem and then wait to see if they can figure it out on their own. If not, you use the appropriate prompt.


7.5. Transfer of Stimulus Control: Programming


Section Learning Objectives

  • Define programming.
  • Describe how to use programming.
  • Exemplify programming.


Now that we have discussed generalization and prompts, let’s put them together. Programming is a procedure whereby we use prompts, in a temporary way, to establish a generalization. Recall that we want to generalize across situations and environments. To effectively use programming, do the following:

  • Start with the prompt.
  • Reinforce the behavior, once started, in the presence of a novel stimulus such as a second environment where the behavior occurs. This might be the playground, and the first location was the classroom.
  • Fade the prompt.
  • Repeat the process in other, novel stimuli/situations. Note that without the replication, the process is not programming.


Be sure you are clear as to what occurs in fading and programming. Fading is all about making a discrimination between two stimuli while programming concerns the use of prompts to generalize to a stimulus class.

Now to an example that goes beyond situations. Most of us have a cat or dog or at least know of their existence. We also know that these household pets come in all types of shapes, sizes, and colors. My wife and I are particularly fond of miniature Dachshunds but my wife’s aunt has a Pitbull Mastiff mix and a shepherd lab retriever mix. Long story short, they are incredibly large dogs. Young kids do not quite understand that dogs come in all different shapes and sizes and so may not call both the mini-Doxie a dog and the Mastiffs dogs. Through programming we can teach these kids to use the word in both cases as they are part of the same stimulus class. It would be good to also have the child come into contact with other dogs…and cats. Why cats? Because children tend to overextend in the realm of language and a discrimination between these stimuli will be necessary. The response in both cases is saying the word dog. In one situation we want it to generalize (with all types of dogs) but in other cases we do not as with the cats.


7.6. Self-Instructions


Section Learning Objectives

  • Clarify the use of self-instructions in behavior modification.


Earlier, I indicated that leaving cues for you to make the desired behavior is an effective antecedent manipulation. I have also said that self-instructions, or statements you write or say to yourself as positive affirmations and motivational tools, could be used too. These statements should remind yourself of what the desirable behavior is, why you are doing it (linked to your reason for change as discussed in Module 3), and what you hope to gain from it (your final goal). This may seem like a simple strategy and it is. It is low cost, low stakes, but very important. People use motivational statements all the time and even buy posters with their words printed across and hang them up. This is no different and you can hang these self-instructions of what to do around your house, in your car, have them on your phone, etc. If you are developing a self-modification plan, write them yourself and if you are working with a client on a behavior modification/ intervention plan, have them develop the statements. Then hang them up. Use them to replace self-defeating statements such as saying, “I am fat.” Instead, say, “I can lose the weight and be healthy.” When you need your statements, say them out loud. If you are having a moment of weakness in the grocery store (i.e. you forgot to go satiated), then use the statements to walk right by the junk food aisle.

An important distinction between self-instructions, prompts, and cues needs to be made. Let’s say you want to drink more water. You have decided to use all three strategies in your behavior modification plan. How would they be used in a way that makes each strategy unique?

  1. Self-instructions – You might write to read later, or say to yourself motivational statements such as, “Drinking water helps with my skin’s complexion,” “Drinking water is an important part of my overall health,” and “Drinking water makes me feel good, especially when I am thirsty.”
  2. Prompts – You might ask a friend to verbally remind you to drink water or to point to your water bottle every hour on the hour.
  3. Cues – You might carry your water bottle with you at school which involves the use of presenting the cue for the desirable behavior. Also, you might engage in reducing the effort to make the desirable behavior since you don’t have to go any further than your book bag to find water.

The fundamental difference is that prompts come from outside you and usually from other people while self-instructions are self-generated and could be something you say to yourself or be a motivational statement you post so you can read it throughout the day. In terms of cues, these are from outside you but don’t involve others. These are manipulations of your environment to help you engage in the desired behavior. You might say that self-instructions that are written, such as hanging your motivational statements on your wall, act as antecedent manipulations also (presenting cue for desirable behavior). Your strictly verbal self-instructions do not.


7.7. Social Support


Section Learning Objectives

  • Clarify the use of social support in behavior modification.


Social support is a crucial strategy to implement in behavior modification. When executing a self-modification plan, we all will have moments of weakness and need reassurance from those closest to us. Or better yet, maybe we are doing really well and compliments and ‘likes’ on social media motivate us all the more. Social support has been shown to buffer against the negative effects of stress and when we make a public declaration of our goal, we are more likely to stick with it. In relation to the discussion at the end of Section 7.6, prompts require another person’s involvement in our plan and so go hand-in-hand with social support. Cues and self-instructions do not.

Be careful with social support though. It may be that the desired behavior we wish to make is being thwarted by tempting situations and people. In this case, you would likely not want to engage in social support, especially with the person bringing temptation into your plan. Maybe you want to stop eating Taco Bell late at night and do so because your roommate is always hungry late at night. This individual would likely not be a useful player in your behavior modification plan. Be aware of the effect other people have on your behaviors.


7.8. Practice Exercise


Section Learning Objectives

  • Complete the following exercise using what you have learned in this module.


Okay. We have covered quite a lot here and before tackling exercises, let’s lay all the strategies out:

  • Goal Setting (revisited) – Restate your long term and short-term goals.
  • Antecedent Manipulations – Cues you use to engage in the desirable behavior.
  • Discrimination – Making the response in the presence of the SD only.
  • Generalization – Making the response in the presence of stimuli that are like the SD or within a stimulus class.
  • Prompting and Fading – Others using verbal, gestural, modeling, or physical prompts to help the person make the desirable behavior and then removing them once the behavior is established.
  • Programming – Using prompts to generalize across a stimulus class.
  • Self-Instructions – Writing and later saying, positive statements to help you make the correct behavior.
  • Social Support – Getting the help of others to ensure you are successful with your plan.


With this overview in mind, try the following exercise.


Exercise 7.1: Strategies to Use with the Antecedent


Directions: For the following, select the appropriate strategy or use the strategy that is indicated.

  1. How might you use goal setting with the following target behaviors? It is a good idea to write a behavioral definition first.
  • Quitting smoking (a functional assessment shows that the individual smokes about 20 cigarettes a day)
  • Reducing caloric intake, as part of a weight loss program
  • Increasing feelings of self-worth
  • Overcoming social phobia (tackle this as a deficit, not an excess)
  • Eliminating nail biting.
  • Weight training (you do it already, but want to increase how much you lift – so increase intensity)
  • Reducing late night eating.
  1. A child is having behavioral issues in his gym class and his PE teacher has contacted an applied behavioral analyst (that is, you) for help. The child has sessions with you 2 times a week and outside of his normal classroom setting. What would you do to help the student generalize beyond your therapy sessions?
  2. How would you teach your child to play baseball and bat?
  3. You have decided that you drink too much coffee throughout the day and want to instead increase your water consumption. How might you go about utilizing antecedent manipulations? (There are actually two behaviors here, or you could see it as replacing drinking coffee with water.)
  4. How might you utilize an establishing operation with our target behavior of overcoming social phobia?
  5. In Question 1, we discussed setting goals to eliminate the habit of nail biting. How might an abolishing operation be useful in our treatment plan?
  6. In terms of increasing feelings of self-worth, how might you use the antecedent manipulation of presenting a cue for the desirable behavior, self-instructions, social support, and prompts?
  7. A teacher finds that one of her students is very shy and often plays alone at recess. She develops a behavior modification plan that successfully helps the student to be more outgoing and sociable on the playground and even in gym. The problem is that the student becomes too outgoing to the point of being disruptive in regular classroom activities. How might you help the teacher to establish stimulus control over the behavior?
  8. You want to teach your child how to set the table for dinner so that in the future, he can set it as part of his allowance. What prompts will you use? You want your child to do this on his own and so you will need to fade the prompts also. What tactic will you use? How might you also test whether or not your child truly knows how to set the table?
  9. Your friend is helping you with your behavior modification plan by providing social support in the form of prompts. Your target behavior is being more sociable while at school. Discuss why programming will be a needed strategy in the treatment plan.


Module Recap

In Module 7, we discussed the first set of strategies used to change an unwanted behavior or to establish a new behavior. These focused on the antecedent and included goal setting, antecedent manipulations, discrimination and generalization, prompting and fading, programming, self-instructions, and social support. Be sure you complete the exercise in Section 7.8 and then review the answers with your instructor or class.

In Module 8, we will turn to a discussion of strategies that are useful for the behavior itself. Module 9 focuses on consequences.

As always, let your instructor know if you have questions.


4th edition


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Module 7: Advanced Operant Conditioning Procedures: Antecedent Focused 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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