A behavior trap refers to when a challenging behavior is maintained by natural contingencies in the environment. Since the behavior is encountering these natural contingencies, the behavior is reinforced inadvertently. Think of a behavior trap when something in the environment is accidentally reinforcing a behavior.  

For example, Let’s say, Johnson does not want to clean up his toys. When his mom tells him to clean up his toys, Johnson will scream and throw things. Mom sends Johnson to his room for a timeout.  Mom did this because she was looking at the topography of the behavior or what the behavior looked like and responding to that. She was attempting to punish  Johnson for what looked like “bad behavior.”

However, as behaviorists we know that we should be looking at the function of the behavior or why a person is engaging in a behavior. In this example, Johnson was trying to escape cleaning his toys and by getting a timeout in his room he got what he wanted. He did not have to clean up his toys.  Therefore, his mom fell into a behavior trap and accidentally reinforced the screaming and throwing things. 

The way out of a behavior trap is to put the behavior on extinction. Extinction means to stop providing reinforcement for what was previously reinforcing the behavior. In this example, mom would stop giving Johnson a timeout and continue to require him to clean up his toys. 

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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