Behavioral Primer

The Behavioral Primer is a resource to understand the underlying concepts and big ideas as to behavioral change.

Through definitions

we hope visitors to the Stream, our clients,& participants in our classes/Courses can can deepen their understanding of these important concepts

Active Supervision:  Active Supervision is a strategy to ensure adult who supervise children use this time to actively monitor learners' behavior and promote previously taught expectations. Too often “playground”, “lunchroom”, or even “classroom” supervision has been seen as  a passive and reactive role. Active supervision teaches professionals that supervision is an  opportunity to  teach, prompt and reinforce desired behavior while proactively assessing learners meeting expectations and intervening early in escalations for those learners who are engaging in undesired behavior. Supervisors should (1) actively scan often the entire environment to assess how each learner is doing towards meeting expectations, (2) move through the environment to be able to see what all learners are doing in all areas as well as use your physical proximity to influence behavior, and (3)interact with children to build positive relationships and use this time to PROMPT learners to engage in the expectations and REINFORCE learners who ARE meeting the expectations.

Antecedent: A type of stimuli that occurs before a behavior of interest. We are especially concerned with those antecedent stimuli that serve as a discriminative stimulus, for they elicit a specific behavior of interest.

Behavior/Response: An observable and measurable action/act of a living being.

Choice: The concept of deliberately selecting one behavior over another to engage in.

Consequence: A stimuli that occurs following a behavior of interest. We are particularly concerned with those that have a functional and contingent relationship with the behavior of interest. Those consequence that have a contingent relationship maintain that behavior in the individual’s repertoire of behavior. They influence the future frequency/rate of that behavior by either maintaining that behavior at its current frequency/rate of increase the likelihood of that behavior being used in the future.

Context: The environment in which a behavior of interest occurs and includes specific antecedent and consequence stimuli including the behavior of others in that environment relative to the target individual.

Coping Strategies: A strategy or routine used by an individual to respond to a condition, often unpleasant or anxiety provoking. Coping mechanisms are solutions that have a short-term benefit of varying levels as well as long term benefits of varying levels. Often “poor” coping skills are ones that involve behaviors that work in short run to deliver reinforcement of some kind (i.e. relief), but do not remove underlying source of aversiveness.

Differential Reinforcement:  Delivering contingent reinforcement for a behavior while withholding reinforcement for other behaviors within the same response class or at a different level on some dimension (frequency, rate, duration, latency) used to define the criterion/goal.

Discriminative Stimulus:  The specific stimulus that elicits a behavior of interest as a result of pairing contingent reinforcement for engagement of that behavior following presentation of that discriminative stimulus.

Effective:  Delivers intended/desired or previously learned consequence. Effective often refers to the short-term delivery of reinforcers rather than long-term overall success to individual.

Efficiency:  How well a particular behavior accesses its reinforcer relative to the effort required.

Effort: The amount of energy required to be expended to engage in behavior and access the available reinforcer(s) for such behavior.

Evidence-based:  Having multiple repeated demonstrations through scientifically rigorous studies to support the recommendation that a particular concept, technique, strategy is effective and useful in specified ways.

5-Step Competing Schedules Model (Smith, 2004) © 2004:  A model developed to represent how an individual is influenced to “select” or “choose” a behavior at one moment of time based on the  available schedules of reinforcement. The Competing Schedules models emphasizes that individuals allocate their behavior based on the rate and schedule of reinforcement available, as well as presence or absence of established discriminative stimuli, and other antecedent stimuli that influences an individual to “choose” a behavior.  This model is used throughout  iBehaviorSupport offerings to help others conceptualize behavior change efforts and ensures a preventive and proactive instructional approach is used.  This model is also a way to minimize the tendency of some to revert back to punishment-based approaches. The Model ensures we conceptualize and design programs and behavioral change plan components in the following order:

Step 1 of the 5-Step Competing Schedule Model: The starting point in the Competing Schedules conceptual model that serve as underpinning for all behavioral support planning. Step 1 refers to explicitly defining and teaching to a high degree of mastery the overall expectations and identified functional replacement behaviors. We ALWAYS start here to ensure (1) we have  a clear understanding and clarity as to what we want and expect, and (2) to effectively teach and promote we must clearly know what it is we are trying to communicate, teach, and promote in others (and ourselves). Step I is TEACH: How Do We Define What We Expect, Desire & Teach It To Mastery.

Step 2 of the 5-Step Competing Schedule Model: The second step of the Competing Schedule model is after defining and teaching a behavior we begin to build contextual changes that are designed to elicit the behavior of interest. We focus on (1) how those around the target individual behave PRIOR to wanting the target person to engage in the behavior, and (2) how we set up the environment to consistently trigger the behavior of interest.  Step 2 ensures we understand what is supposed to elicit the behavior , how to prompt the behavior and in team-based efforts- be it in a school, family, business- we have similarity in relevant features  to prompt the target behavior for the individual we are supporting. Step II is to PROMPT: How Do We Set Up The Environment & How Do We Behave To Trigger The Desired Behavior.

Step 3 of the 5-Step Competing Schedule Model: The 3rd step in the model is focused on understanding the necessary reinforcement level and type to maintain and promote the target behavior of the individuals we are supporting.  We understand reinforcement must be salient and at rate sufficient to COMPETE with the reinforcement available for engaging in the behaviors that we are trying to reduce, replace or weaken reinforcement for. Step III is to REINFORCE: How Do We Ensure The Naturally Occurring & Any Necessary Contrived Reinforcement For The Desired Behavior Is Available.

Step 4 of the 5-Step Competing Schedule Model:  is focused on identifying known stimuli that trigger the undesired behavior(s) and how to remove, reduce or make them irrelevant for the target person. Step 4 is all about prevention. We either remove these stimuli entirely if we can, modify them so the aspect of them that elicits undesired behavior is no longer present, or we can teach and promote individuals use an alternative response (essentially moving back up to Step 1 of the Competing Schedule Model). Though in real time we may employ strategies we list under Step 4 first, we do so while ensuring we have completed Steps 1-3. This commitment to always strengthen the relationship between our desired behaviors and their reinforcers ensures a positive instructional focus of skill promotion rather than simply suppressing or removing behavior we do not wish to have continue. Step IV: PREVENT: How Can We Remove, or Change Known Triggers for Undesired Behavior.

Step 5 of the 5-Step Competing Schedule Model:   Step 5 in the Competing Schedule Model focuses on the relationship between the undesired behavior we have clearly identified we no longer want, and the reinforcement available for engagement in these behavior. Step 5 is where we ensure safety plans are explicitly designed, delineated, and understood by all members of the team. Non-punitive approaches to reduce undesired behaviors, primarily through differential reinforcement and extinction procedures, are employed. Team members use these effective strategies rather than rely on punitive-based approaches. Notice that Step 5 is where traditional discipline typically starts: waiting for an individual to make a behavioral error, then trying to respond in ways to change that behavior. Science tells us we should conceptualize and design plans using all 5 steps of the model and do so in this order to emphasizes a TEACH, PROMPT, & REINFORCE approach first,  while also PREVENT and then Effectively RESPONDING to undesired behavior. STEP V: RESPOND: How Do We Respond To Undesired Behavior In A Manner That Maintains Safety For ALL, Provides Further Practice At Desired Behavior & Reduces Reinforcement For Undesired Behavior.

Function:  Refers to the two main purposes for behavior: obtain or avoid. The function describes the functional (i.e. “learned’ contingent) relationship  between a behavior of interest and its maintaining consequence.  An obtain functional relationship is one in which a positive reinforcement arrangement resulted in that behavior being maintained or increased in frequency as a result of the contingent access to a consequence stimuli. An avoidance function is one in which a negative reinforcement arrangement resulted in that behavior being maintained or increased in frequency as a result of the contingent removal of a consequence stimuli.).

Function-based Behavior Support: To teach and replace one behavior with another behavior that may be topographically different yet serve the same function or purpose as the undesired behavior ( a functional alternative behavior). Function-based behavior support plans have this focus but also may include other contextual changes at antecedent and consequence level to promote this functional alternative behavior as well as other changes in the life of an individual.

Habit: A behavior or routine that is repeated, often under stimulus control, and thus requiring less active conscious choice or selection by individual.

Intentions: What one “hopes” or would like to occur. Often there is not a strong connection between intention, actions, and actual effect on others/environment. One should understand one’s own as well as other’s intentions, but look to actual valid and reliable data to measure true effect.

Mindset: The beliefs one has about one’s own abilities, talents, and their relationship to success/failures. Carolyn Dweck  (2008) discussed how people across many fields and endeavors who maintain a fixed-mindset are less likely to be successful than those with a growth-mindset. A fixed-mindset is one where a person believes their (or other peoples) abilities are static, fixed largely at birth, and unchangeable. A growth-mindset is one in which a person believes their (or other peoples) abilities, talents, skills can be developed and nurtured. From a behavioral perspective having a growth-mindset sets the occasion for someone to be willing to allow oneself to try new things, and get through the learning curve any new behavior or routine might require. By doing so a new habit or routine can be established through the repeated exposure to available reinforcers. Embracing a growth mindset may allow an individual to persevere through change for the potential for success is defined, in part, by ones effort not innate ability.

Dweck, Carol S.. Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success. New York : Ballantine Books, 2008

Motivation: According to the APA dictionary motivation is defined as, “the impetus that gives purpose or direction to behavior and operates in humans at a conscious or unconscious level “. Motivation is a term used by many to be at the root of behavior change. While a factor in change efforts, to only focus on motivation often leads to poor outcomes towards defined goals. Motivation emphasizes internal states at the expense of the necessary changes to external environmental conditions  likely to support an individual making the incremental changes necessary to achieve important goals and desired outcomes. From a behavioral perspective motivation is related to the prior reinforcement history of effort to support an individual’s willingness to engage in a behavior.

Momentum:  The influence of learning and reinforcement histories to perpetuate the behaviors we "know", practice, and are comfortable with. We are more inclined to do what we practice--our habits and routines-- for they have more predictable outcomes. 

Phases of Learning:  A model described by Haring, White, & Liberty (1978) of learning and teaching that emphasizes different contextual variables and supports that match changing criterion and definitions of mastery for an individual to master a particular skill. Acquisition, Fluency, Maintenance, Generalization are the phases, in increasing independence of learner and their ability to use skill ultimately without any supports. Often when we speak of behavioral goals we ultimately want the generalization of skills from a training context to an individual use of such skill on their own in new and novel situations.

Haring, N.G., White,O.R., & Liberty, K.A. (1978) An investigation of phases of learning and facilitating instructional events for the severely handicapped and annual progress report, 1977-78. Bureau of Education for the Handicapped, Project No. 443CH 70564. Seattle: University of Washington, College of Education.

Practice: The opportunity to perform a behavior multiple times that results in strengthening how one performs that behavior in the future. In practice, behaviors can be repeated correctly (i.e. they are engaged in the proper order, completeness, speed, and in proper contexts and environmental conditions in line with one’s ultimate goal) or incorrectly (poorly defined behaviors repeated with  insufficient supports results in the behavior not in line with ultimate goals are established and maintained in a learners repertoire). Careful attention to the necessary proper supports that use effective learning principles (e.g. prompting, feedback, phases of learning principles…)  are necessary to improve performance.

Prompts: Verbal, written, visual or physical stimuli added to the learning environment to assist the learner engaging in the defined expected behavior. A prompt is not what triggers the behavior/expectation, but rather an additional stimuli that supports the learner  and increases the likelihood the learner engages in the expected behavior.

Punisher: A consequence stimulus that is contingently related to a behavior of interest that decreases the future rate of that behavior. The actual effect on behavior’s rate supports whether a stimuli is a punisher or not. People often talk about “punishers” based on what the intention was (the desired effect on behavior), but one must assess the true effect on behavior to support that conclusion.

Punishment: As a result of a consequence stimuli being contingently presented or removed the future rate of a behavior decrease. Positive punishment  is the contingent presentation of a consequence stimuli that decreases the future rate of a behavior, and negative punishment is the contingent removal of a consequence stimuli that decreases the future rate of a behavior.

Reinforcement:  The future rate of a behavior is maintained or increased as a result of consequence stimuli being contingently presented or removed following  engagement of that behavior (or at times behavior in the same response class). Positive reinforcement is the contingent presentation of a consequence stimuli that maintains or increases the future rate of a behavior, and negative reinforcement is the contingent removal of a consequence stimuli that maintains or increases the future rate of a behavior.

Reinforcers: A consequence stimulus that is contingently related to a behavior of interest that maintains or increases the future rate of that behavior. The actual effect on behavior’s rate supports whether a stimuli is a reinforcer or not. People often talk about “reinforcers” based on what the intention was (the desired effect on behavior), but one must assess the true effect on behavior to support that conclusion.

Response Class: Behaviors that are topographically different, yet access the same reinforcer, and therefore serve the same function. Often behaviors that are topographically different impact others in the environment differently, thus impacting their social acceptability.

Routine: A learned sequence or set of behaviors repeated often that results in achieving valued, or established outcomes.

Schedules of Reinforcement: The relationship between the frequency, rate or duration of engaged behavior to access its related reinforcement. Schedules can be continuous, but most behaviors in life are on an intermittent  schedule. We understand intermittent schedules to be  Fixed  (every set number of occurrences of a behavior accesses a reinforcer) or Variable (an average number of occurrences accesses a reinforcer) and based on Ratio (i.e. the number of occurrences of behavior before reinforcement is delivered) or Interval (an amount of time must pass before an occurrence of the behavior accesses its reinforcer).


Self-management: A particular set of skills where an individual engages in monitoring, prompting, reinforcing, ... one’s self in the aim of increasing or decreasing a targeted behavior. As such all self-management techniques require teaching, prompting and reinforcing two behaviors: the target behavior and the self-management behavior.

Shaping: The process of using differential reinforcement over time to gradually move from a previously learned behavior to successive approximations(intermediate behavior) to a new unlearned behavior (terminal behavior). By using reinforcement for successive approximations  we increase likelihood of learner continued success at achievement and effort. Shaping embraces a growth-mindset for it emphasizes growth over time as the focus, rather than define change as a spontaneous event achieved through intrinsic motivation and  thelearner simply being “strong” enough or “motivated enough”.

Social-Emotional Learning: A broad set of efforts that aim to  teach children to be aware of emotions, and understand  the connection between thoughts, feelings, and their behaviors or actions.

Stimuli: Any perceptible, observable and measurable action or event.

Stimulus Control:  The relationship between an antecedent stimulus occasioning a behavior of interest as a result of that behavior previously being reinforced when engaged in following the presentation of the antecedent stimuli.  A behavior under stimulus control is elicited when the discriminative stimuli is presented, and the behavior of interest does not occur in the absence of the discriminative stimuli (unless that behavior is also under the control of anther stimuli). 

Teaching: is MORE THAN telling.  The process of arranging contextual variables in such a way as to transmit information and create opportunities for learners to practice behaviors. The goal of teaching is a learner who can engage in valued behaviors on their own without supports. Teaching can be planned or not.

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