The Importance of Measuring Behavior

March 13, 2013 9:59 am Published by Leave your thoughts

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In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), data drives all the decisions we make. We use data to determine if a goal is mastered, when to switch or add new targets or when to change teaching procedures to make greater progress. This information is collected and then reflected onto graphs. Graphs are visual tools we use to assess where our target behavior has been, where it is now, and where we can project it to go. Some examples of graphs used in ABA includes line graphs, bar graphs, and pie charts.

We take data on many different behaviors. These behaviors can include behaviors we want to decrease (aggression, screaming, tantrums, pinching, self-injurious behavior, etc.) or behaviors we want to increase (requesting for information, learning to read, counting, etc.).

When attempting to reduce problem behavior, we first put the target behavior into measurable terms or a give it what’s called a behavioral definition. Developing a behavioral definition involves selecting specific behaviors, describing them precisely, and then using these descriptions to formulate hypotheses, predictions and referral questions that need to be answered in order to plan an intervention. We want to make sure that everyone collecting the data knows what to measure and what not to measure, so we can make ensure our data is accurate and reliable.

We then measure the target behaviors using a variety of different methods. We do this so we can identify if the procedures we put into place are having the desired effect. We analyze the behavior change and evaluate the program’s effectiveness based on the data we collect.

Behavior Analysts use several different methods to collect data. Some of the ways to collect behavioral data include:

  • Frequency: This method refers to the number of times that a target behavior was observed and counted.
    • Example: Diego hit Cecile 5 times.
  • Rate: Same as frequency, but within a specified time limit.
    • Example: Diego hit Cecile 5 times in 2 minutes.
  • Duration: This measurement refers to the amount of time that someone engaged in a behavior.
    • Example: Evan had a tantrum for 42 minutes.
  • Fluency: This measurement refers to how quickly a learner can give responses within a period of time.
    • Example: Randy read 15 sight words in 60 seconds.
  • Response latency: Latency refers to the amount of time after a specific stimulus has been given before the target behavior occurs.
    • Example: The teacher tells the class it’s time to line up, the entire class lines up and it takes Jimmy 2 minutes after the demand has been placed before he lines up with the rest of the class.

*Reminder: these are only a few common ways to measure behavior and does not exhaust the list of measurements.

For data to be useful it must be valid, accurate, and reliable.

Validity exists when measurement is focused on a relevant dimension of a socially-significant behavior. Socially-significant behaviors include reading, academics, social skills, communication, and adaptive living skills. Measurement is accurate when the observed values of an event match the true values of an event. Measurement is reliable when it yields the same values across repeated measurement of the same event.

So, in other words, ABA is an objective discipline and focuses on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior. Without measuring behavior and evaluating the data, behavior analysts would not know whether to change the program we are working on, when to switch or add new targets or when to change procedures to make greater progress.

Are there types of data collection tools that you find valuable with your staff, family, or clients? If so, please leave this information in the comment section below.

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