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Applied Behavioral Analysis

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  • Pages: 6
  • Word count: 1299
  • Category: Behavior

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Behavior modification is field within psychology that specializes in identifying relationships between a specific behavior and environmental events as well as creating and instituting procedures that help individuals to change a particular behavior. When behavior analysts conduct research they use research designs that help them to identify whether a change in the targeted behavior or dependent variable was result of implementation of a specific treatment plan or independent variable (Miltenberger, 2008). This paper addresses the use of research design methods in a case study involving Martin, an ABA psychologist, who has implemented a treatment plan for his patient, a 14 year old girl named Sara that exhibits self-injurious behaviors. Case Study – Martin

1. What type of research design did Martin employ when working with Sara?
Martin used a multiple baseline across behaviors design when working with Sara. The multiple baseline design is one of the most frequently used research designs when evaluating treatment in behavior modification. This design allows analysts to examine the effects of treatment across multiple settings, multiple behaviors, or multiple individuals without having to stop the treatment, revert back to baseline, and re-establish treatment in order to verify that the change in behavior was a result of treatment (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). In a multiple baseline across behaviors design two or more behaviors are measured for a single patient. When a steady rate of responding is established for the behaviors, treatment is initiated to one behavior while leaving the other behaviors at baseline. When a steady rate of behavior change is shown for the first behavior, treatment is then initiated on the second behavior. This continues until treatment is applied to all behaviors (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). 2. According to the data did the intervention that Martin selected work in modifying Sara’s self-injurious behavior?

When looking at the data presented, it does appear that intervention worked. All three behaviors showed a decrease in frequency from baseline to treatment with hair pulling and head banging showing a greater decrease in frequency. Although it looks as though treatment was effective for Sara other confounding variables may also have been involved therefore it does not demonstrate a strong experimental control In each case, only one instance of baseline was recorded and one instance of treatment was recorded. 3. Martin had considered using an ABAB reversal design. What are some ethical implications of selecting a reversal design when working with the type of behavior Sara was exhibiting?

An ABAB reversal design is similar to the AB design in that it records behavior during initial baseline (A) and during treatment (B) but it then removes the treatment and reverts back to baseline. Behavior is again recorded at the second baseline (A). Once a steady rate of responding has again been established the independent variable (treatment B) is then re-introduced. Reintroducing a second treatment phase allows the analyst to replicate the change in behavior shown in the first treatment phase and also helps to prove that no confounding variable caused the change in behavior (Miltenberger, 2008).

The ethical implications that may have been involved if Martin had used an ABAB design with Sara would be that during the first treatment phase the frequency of Sara’s self-injurious behavior decreased in all three behaviors. A dramatic decrease was shown in two out of three behaviors (hair pulling and heading banging). Removing the treatment and reverting back to baseline conditions would increase Sara’s self injurious behaviors causing her to again get hurt. To eliminate as much harm as possible and depending on the nature of the self injurious behavior a much shorter reversal period could be used such as a day or a couple of hours. For some self injurious behavior removing treatment even for a couple of hours may cause too much harm to the patient so other research designs should be considered (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Another aspect to consider in this type of design would be the time lost in teaching Sara new behaviors during the reversal phase and the possibility that behavior changes shown in the first treatment phase may not occur again when treatment is reintroduced the second time (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). 4. Martin’s supervisor requested a graph of the data he collected when working with Sara. Why are graphs useful in evaluating behavior change? Using Sara’s case, what variable would be plotted on the x-axis and the y-axis?

A graph is an uncomplicated, visual aid that allows different individuals to see how things have changed over a period of time. For a behavior analyst, the graph allows them to see how behavior has changed over time. Plotting data on a graph after observation allows for an immediate visual of behavior change as it occurs and allows the analyst to compare behavioral changes prior to treatment, during treatment, and after treatment (Miltenberger, 2008). Another big advantage of a graph is that it allows individual interpretation of data instead of relying on the conclusions of the analyst. Each person can form their own decision as far as whether they feel treatment has worked (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

On a graph, a unit of time (hours, days, weeks) is typically represented on the x-axis. It is usually marked in equal intervals and is most often a longer line than the y-axis. The y-axis typically represents some level of behavior or range of values of the dependent variable (frequency of biting, hours of studying, number of calories consumed). Each point upward on the vertical line represents an increase in value of the behavior. For Sarah, each behavior would be represented on its own separate graph. The variable listed on the x-axis would be a unit of time such as days, sessions, hours, and the y-axis would represent the number of times in which the self injurious behavior occurred such as 5, 10, 15, and 20. 5. Discuss what a functional relationship is and how an ABA professional would use his/her understanding of functional relationships when designing an intervention.

A functional relationship occurs when a change in the dependent variable (targeted behavior) can be made by manipulating the independent variable (applying treatment) and that the change in the dependent variable (targeted behavior) was not caused by something other than the treatment. It must also show that behavior changes each time the experiment is repeated (Miltenberger, 2008).

As an ABA professional the primary concern would be to find out the reason behind the behavior in question. To do this, a functional assessment should be performed. A functional assessment is used to gather information in order to understand why the behavior occurs (escape, attention, avoidance, or tangible). Sometimes the function of the behavior is not inappropriate it is the behavior itself that is inappropriate (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). If a child is seeking attention by throwing a temper tantrum, a treatment plan can be developed to teach the child a more appropriate way to receive attention and another treatment plan can be developed to decrease the inappropriate behavior. Without conducting a functional assessment, instead of developing a treatment plan for the child that throws a temper tantrum to gain attention, a plan may be developed for avoidance or escape. The treatment may show a decrease in frequency of the targeted behavior during the first treatment phase but will not show a change in behavior in the second treatment phase if a reversal design is used. It may also not show a consistent change in behavior in different settings or with different people.


Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. Miltenberger, R. (2008). Behavior Modification: Principles ad Procedures (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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