Special Learning Logo Light

What is Behavior?

39 blog avatar What is Behavior?
Expert Name: Morgan Aue-VanDenBerg
Expert Title: Morgan Aue-VanDenBerg
Company Name:  Step By Step Inc.
Company URL: www.stepbystepacademy.org
Short Bio: Morgan Aue-VanDenBerg is a clinic director at Step by Step Inc. She earned her 

bachelor’s degree in psychology from Western Michigan University and her master’s degree from Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Currently, Morgan helps oversee the one on one behavioral intervention clinic at Step By Step. 

She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and has been working in the field since 2005. Prior to working at Step By Step, Morgan worked as a behavior analyst in a variety of settings including a non-profit organization, precision teaching learning center, and in the public schools. She has various experiences working with individuals with emotional and behavioral disorders, autism, traumatic brain injuries, and a range of intellectual disabilities. Morgan is a full member of the Association for Behavior Analysis International and her local chapter in Ohio. She participates, collaborates, and has assisted in various research studies. Her latest study was a replication and extension on increasing creative toy play through reinforcement and extinction.

What is Behavior?

What is Behavior?

  • Anything a person says or does
  • Behavior involves movement and has an impact on the environment
  • Is influenced by environmental events
  • Can be observed, described, and recorded
  • Needs to pass the dead man test (teddy bear test)
  • If a dead man or teddy bear can do it, then it IS NOT behavior!!!!

What is labeling?

  • What we do when we group several behaviors or internal events (emotions)
  • Examples
  • He is physically aggressive.
  • She acted like she was mad.
  • He is non-compliant.
  • Dave is acting depressed.
  • Jen is frustrated.

More examples of labels

  • Jon will hit other people when he feels frustrated or is upset about something.
  • Sandy is lazy because she doesn’t do her homework.
  • Why is Sandy lazy?  Because she doesn’t do her homework.
  • Paul is in a great mood because he is behaving himself.

Why is this a problem?

  • You can’t observe it
  • For example, How do you observe “frustration”?
  • If you can’t observe it, you can’t measure it
  • People tend to but their own opinions or biases on lables.
  • What frustration means to one person is not the same as the next person. People have different experiences with each label and may interpret them differently.
  • Self-report is the only way to measure feelings and internal events

Let’s make a comparison

  • Physical Aggression
  • Joe is hitting his peers with a closed fist with enough intensity to leave a red mark
  • Joe is being physically aggressive
  • Which is easier to measure?
  • THE FIRST ONE!!!!!

Let’s talk about observable behavior and what Behavior Analysts  mean when say that.

  • Described in specific and observable terms
  • It can be measured
  • Data collection is more accurate
  •  People are less likely to include their opinions or interpretations
  • Better data collection is likely to give you a better intervention

How would you classify these behavior or label? (Answers at the bottom)

  • Smoking
  • Attitude
  • Naughty
  • Punching a mirror
  • Being helpful
  • Withdrawn
  • Screaming
  • Yawning
  • Kicking
  • Non compliance

Now that we have a behavior we can write an Operational Definition!

  • An operational definition includes information about the form and intensity of the behavior so that the behavior can be observed and measured
  • An operational definition should be clear enough that anyone reading it could demonstrate the behavior after reading the definition
  • Topography: what it looks or sounds like
  • Intensity:  the physical force involved in the behavior (how hard or how loud)
  • Duration: the length of time the response lasts

Answers for behavior or Label-Check your work

  • Smoking-Behavior
  • Attitude-Label
  • Naughty-Label
  • Punching a mirror-Behavior
  • Being helpful-Label
  • Withdrawn-Label
  • Screaming-Behavior
  • Yawning-Behavior
  • Kicking-Behavior
  • Non compliance-Label

Social Skills in Adolescence – ABA Literature Summary


Parent Waitlist Program


November 02, 2023 | 12pm-1pm PDT

Journey to Independence

Community-based program designed to support families on waitlist

Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

Mother Child
Special Learning’s Free Hotline

This is an independent SL Hotline that is part of our VCAT service. This hotline has no connection with any other association or membership group.

Got a question you want a BCBA or other ABA expert to answer?
Fill in this form and one of our professionals will handle your question quickly and confidently. You can expect a response in 24-hours or less.