Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is not the only science of behavior. Therefore, behavior analysts had to set specific criteria for what makes something ABA. Therefore, in order for something to be considered ABA, it must meet all seven of the following criteria. If any are missing, a treatment would not be considered ABA. 


Any behavior being changed in ABA must be socially important to the individual. You could train a child to touch their nose every time they hear a horn sound using behavioral principles. However, this would not be ABA because this would not be socially relevant to the child. All behavior interventions must always be relevant and important for a learner.


A behavior must be observable, specific and measurable when doing ABA. For example, an ABA goal could not be, “A child feels more comfortable at the playground.” This is not something that can be observed and measured. One would have to break this down to specific goals such as: Sally greets three peers at the playground. Sally spends 10 minutes at the playground without crying. Sally plays on the swing for at least three minutes. All of these behaviors are measurable 


A behavior analyst must be able to demonstrate a functional relationship between an intervention and a behavior. In other words, an ABA practitioner must prove that a behavior change is the result of an intervention. This will be easier when an intervention can be withdrawn. There is no specific requirement for this but it does demonstrate the importance of collecting behavior data. Without any measure in behavior change, there is no ABA. 


An ABA intervention must be described in detail so that it can be replicated. This is the importance of writing out behavior interventions. If you just make up an intervention as you go without writing down the procedures used, it is not ABA. 

Conceptual Systematic

In order for an intervention to be considered ABA, you must refer to the principles that an intervention was derived from.  The point behind this is that ABA is based on the science of behavior and all interventions must refer back to behavioral science principles. 


A behavior change must be able to be generalized in different untrained scenarios. For example, if you teach a child to throw a ball, they cannot just know how to throw one specific pink ball in their living room. They must also be able to throw a kickball at recess in school, a basketball at summer camp e.c.t. This is called stimulus generalization. Similarly, a child cannot only memorize one response to a question but cannot answer if asked in a different way. A person must also have different ways to achieve the same goal. For example, when greeting a peer, they must be able to say more than just, “Hi!” They must also be able to learn to engage in other responses such as, “Hello.” “Hey.” ect. This is called response generalization.


An intervention must show enough of a change in a behavior for it to be meaningful for the person. Another way to say this is that a behavior must improve enough for it to impact a person’s life. For example, if a child learns to sit in their seat for 1 minute and the goal of an intervention is for that child to be able to attend a mainstream classroom, this would not be effective for the child because class periods are 45 minutes long.  

This article is useful for registered behavior technicians (RBT) or students who are studying to become board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs). Understanding (Applied Behavior Analysis) ABA terms is critical for both being an effective ABA therapist and passing your BCBA exam


In an effort to help you study for your BCBA exam more effectively, this post is written in a “study note” form rather than as a long form blog post. 

They are my personal study notes I am sharing with you as a gift. I am spending my time studying so they are not edited. I am grateful for your understanding in overlooking the grammar! Happy Studying! 


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd Edition). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education.

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