Everyday, I help break down a confusing ABA term and put it in plain English! Whether you are studying for your BCBA exam, explaining ABA to parents or are a student, there is no reason to be so confused over ABA terms. While “behavioral language” is very confusing, these concepts don’t have to be. Today we will discuss a discriminative stimulus for punishment (SDp)

According to Cooper, Heron and Heward,  a discriminative stimulus for punishment (SDp) is,  “A stimulus in the presence of which a given behavior has been punished and in the absence of which that behavior has not been punished; as a result of this history, the behavior occurs less often in the presence of the SDp than in its absence.”

Simply put an SDp signals that punishment is available. A classic example is that if you see a police car or a sign that says that traffic laws are photo enforced, it signals to you that if you speed at that moment you will get a ticket.  When there is no police car or speed camera, you will not get a ticket for speeding. 

If a grandmother always punishes Kimberly for stealing cookies and grandma is in the kitchen it is a signal to Kimberly that if she tries to steal a cookie, she will be punished. If grandma is not in the kitchen, Kimberly will not get punished for taking a cookie. (Yes technically grandma could find out later and punish Kimberly. But you get the point!)


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

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