As a behavior analyst, I look at behaviors as a science that impacts the way I present information related to child development. Because of this, I believe it is vital that I start with a clear description of how behavior analysts look at behavior and define some of the terms I will use later in this blog.
Let’s start with the word behavior. Behaviors are any actions carried out by a living organism, such as walking, hitting, standing, crying and typing, to name a few. As you can see, behaviors are action words (i.e., verbs) or things that only living beings can do. These actions are impacted by the events and stimuli occurring before, after, and during the behavior.
The event occurring before the behavior is the antecedent, while the outcome following the behavior is the consequence. Consequences fall into two categories: reinforcement and punishment. We know the difference between reinforcement and punishment based on the likelihood of the behavior occurring again in the future. In other words, reinforcement strengthens behaviors (i.e., makes a behavior more likely to occur), while punishment weakens behaviors (i.e., makes a behavior less likely to occur in the future). This information is important to examine when determining why a behavior happens.
For example, when you go to a restaurant, first a server asks for your order. Next, you reply with what you would like to eat. Finally, the server returns with your food. In this example, the server asking for your order is the antecedent. The behavior is replying with what you would like to eat, and the consequence is receiving your food. If you continue to tell servers what you would like to eat when asked in the future, then receiving your food was a reinforcement. If you stop giving your order in the future, receiving your food was a punishment, possibly the food was not very good. This theory is called operant conditioning founded by B.F. Skinner, the father of behaviorism. We’ll continue to break down behavior in future posts.