What is ABA?

Applied Behaviour Analysis is the science in which procedures derived from the principals of behaviour are systematically applied to improve socially significant behaviour to a meaningful degree and to demonstrate experimentally that the procedures employed were responsible for the improvement in behaviour.

Applied in the applied behaviour analysis is determined by the social significance of behaviour under investigation.  These behaviours should have immediate importance to the individual, and may include academic skills, language acquisition, work productivity and performance, self-help skills, sport and leisure activities.  The critical factor here is that the behaviour is important to the individual or society.

Behaviour in this context does not refer to just any behaviour.  First, it must be a behaviour that is in need of improvement.  Second, it must be a behaviour that is observable and measurable.  The precise and reliable measurement, in a naturalistic setting, of behaviour is as essential in applied work as it is for a doctor when diagnosing a physical ailment.  Third, when changes in behaviour are observed it is necessary to ask whose behaviour has changed.  The behaviours of all persons involved should be monitored, as it may be that the therapists' behaviour has changed and not the behaviour targeted for change.

An applied behavioural procedure is analytical when the therapist has demonstrated a functional relationship between the manipulated events and the behaviour of interest.  In other words, the occurrence and non-occurrence of a behaviour must be identified and controlled.

A sophisticated definition of applied behaviour analysis specifies six key aspects of the field.  First, the attitudes and methodology of science guide its practice.  Second, the behaviour change procedures are described and applied in a systematic, technological manner.  Third, not any means of changing behaviour qualifies as applied behaviour analysis; only the field circumscribes those procedures conceptually derived from the basic principles.  Fourth, the focus of ABA is socially significant behaviour.  The fifth and sixth parts of the definition specify the twin goals of ABA: improvement and understanding.  ABA seeks to make meaningful improvement in important behaviour and to produce a functional analysis of the factors responsible for that improvement. 


Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (1987). Applied Behavior Analysis. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York