Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis

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By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21 Founding Editor

Training behavior analysts is tedious.  The intricacies of supervised fieldwork alone can be a harrowing experience for many — meeting with interdisciplinary teams, parents, challenging clients, (and staff for that matter) seeing how psychotropic medications interact with your behavior plans, etc…

But underneath those experiences is your base — your didactic training.  And within all of that literature, Baer, Wolf, and Risley’s (1968) makes the shortlist for the most important reading of your behavioral training.  


Because Baer, Wolf, and Risley provide an identity to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  Moreover, they do so by outlining seven dimensions of ABA that we briefly discuss below:

1) Applied — This is a question of the types of problems targeted for intervention.  To be applied, the problem of interest must be of interest to greater society rather than theoreticians.  

2) Behavioral — This one shouldn’t come as any surprise.  As behavior analysts, we are interested in pragmatic behavior change.  We want to predict and influence behavior.  If our intervention does not produce such a change, we take a close look at what we did and figure out why.

3) Analytic — Intimately tied to #2, we don’t just look at behavior, we analyze behavior.  This means we must convincingly demonstrate the controlling variables of which behavior is a function.  We achieve the latter through our unique time-series research designs (e.g., multiple baseline, reversal, alternating treatments design, etc…).

4) Technological — Technological refers to techniques.  We must make sure our techniques, or procedures, are sufficiently described in such a way that they can be replicated by others following a published report of your intervention.

5) Conceptual Systems — This category acts as a counterweight to #4 above to ensure ABA is a “discipline rather than a collection of tricks.”  The authors further note, “the field of applied behavior analysis will probably advance best if the published descriptions of its procedures are not only precisely technological, but also strive for relevance to principle.”  In other words, techniques or procedures are not the same thing as behavioral principles or processes.  As a simple example, simply providing a consequence to a behavior is not the same thing as a principle of behavior.  One has to measure a resulting change in behavior to make statements regarding principles.  

6) Effective — Very closely linked to #1 and #2, our interventions must produce pragmatic behavior change.  However, ABA has the additional requirement that the change be sufficiently large as to produce socially significant results for the individuals impacted by the intervention.  In the laboratory, the latter is not a requirement.

7) Generality — What good is an intervention for a science of behavior if it only works one time with one individual and never again?  If that was the case, serious questions related to #3 (Analytic) would arise and one would suspect that the one-time result was a fluke.  Thus, our interventions must display generality, or be reproducible in a variety of behaviors and settings.  

Do you implement these dimensions in your work?  Tell us about your experiences and the obstacles you face in the comments below and remember to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox.


Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com.  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at [email protected].

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3 Comments on "Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis"

  1. Great post reminding us to come back to our roots…the dimensions from which we must work and use to continuously evaluate what it is we are doing. I work in a school system where the mediators/implementer of behaviour change technologies are often not formally trained in ABA, nor are given information about the dimensions that make it ABA. Perhaps this would allow for better buy-in, greater integrity, standards to uphold? I’m not asking for the data to be a pain and make more work; it’s because I have standards to uphold. The ‘Applied’ dimension is also something I come back to again and again; always asking “Whose problem is this?” and “Is this important/functional/purposeful?” That then ties in with generality. If we can’t see a purpose for this skill, behaviour to reduce outside of the classroom, then why are we intervening on it, teaching it?

    This has me thinking that my intervention plans and in-services need to make mention of these dimensions. Keeps me in check and helps to better frame the work that we/they do.

  2. Love this! Thanks for the reminder! I refer to these all the time when supervising BCBA candidates, but am not so good in other areas of my work.

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