Applied Behavior Analysis


Behavioral Engineering


Producing observable and sustainable changes in social behavior

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … repertoire of behaviors
  • Knowing is … behaving (triggered by stimuli)
  • Learner is … a person
  • Learning is … changes in social behavior
  • Teaching is … training; engineering behavior (through deliberate conditioning)




Applied Behavior Analysis is included among Behaviorisms. It is concerned with developing and applying evidence-based techniques to change behaviors – especially social behaviors. Applied Behavior Analysis is closely associated with Behavior Modification, but it places a stronger emphasis on fine-grained analyses of both aberrant and acceptable behaviors before any interventions, as well as rigorous observation and measurement during interventions. Associated discourses include:
  • Behavior Analysis (various, 2000s) – Defined in different ways by different people, Behavior Analysis is sometimes used interchangeably with Applied Behavior Analysis, sometimes defined as the empirical study of animal behavior, and most often described as a general domain that comprises three branches: Applied Behavior Analysis, Experimental Analysis of Behavior, and Behaviorisms. All three characterizations are flawed, the first because it’s too narrow; the others because too much territory is claimed. (It is much easier to argue that Behavior Analysis is a subdiscourse of Behaviorisms than the other way around.)
  • Experimental Analysis of Behavior (various, 2000s) – Explicitly based on Radical BehaviorismExperimental Analysis of Behavior is concerned with establishing strategies to affect behaviors that are based on data-driven studies of the relationships between stimuli and responses.


As with Behavior Modification, Applied Behavior Analysis has been criticized for its focus on decreasing a specific behavior, rather than supporting the learner to cope in complex social and cultural worlds. Consequently, Applied Behavior Analysis has been associated with such psychological issues as learned helplessness and diminished self-esteem. Some practitioners and practices have also been criticised for efforts to eliminate autistic behaviors, “cure” homosexuals, and other efforts to enforce assumed forms of “normality.”

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Teodoro Ayllon; Jack Michael; Donald M. Baer; Montrose M. Wolf;Todd R. Risley

Status as a Theory of Learning

Applied Behavior Analysis is not concerned with understanding the complex dynamics of human learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Applied Behavior Analysis involves the application of a theory of learning (i.e., Methodological Behaviorism). It does not seek to offer any insight into the nature or processes of human learning, focusing rather on protocols for suppressing target behavior.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Proponents of Applied Behavior Analysis make strong claims about being rigorous scientific, and the discourse meets most of our criteria for scientific inquiry. However, it falls short on matters of critical attentiveness to its central constructs.


  • Behavior Analysis
  • Experimental Analysis of Behavior

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Applied Behavior Analysis” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

⇦ Back to Map
⇦ Back to List