Guest blog post by Dr. Katherine May, Ed.D., BCBA

 Behavior traps are powerful contingencies of reinforcement with four defining features:

  1. Clients are “baited” with virtually irresistible reinforcers
  2. Only a low effort response already in the clients repertoire is needed to enter the trap
  3. Interrelated contingencies of reinforcement inside the trap motivate the student to acquire, extend, and maintain targeted skills
  4. Traps can remain effective for a long period of time

Behavior traps are a wonderful way to have clients acquire new skills and also are very effective at promoting generalization. 

Alber and Heward (1996) outlined these five steps to design and use “behavior traps!” I highly suggest you take a look over this article (referenced below) to find out more about behavior traps and the many different strategies to create and implement them.

Identify your prey: What academic/social areas does the student need the most help? 

Be sure to target behaviors that are relevant, functional, and behaviors that lend 

themselves to frequent practice opportunities.

Find powerful bait:What does the student like? Watch them when they’re alone or simply by asking the student and/or their parents and provide a variety for them to sample.

Set the trap: Place desired materials in the student’s path. 

Maintain your trap: Start small. Use variety and give your trap a break periodically.

Appraise your catch: Assess the changes in the targeted skills frequently and directly. Make modifications or set another trap if ineffective.

Cooper identifies a behavior trap while referring to catching a mouse in your house. There are many ways to catch a mouse in your house; you can chase the mouse with your hands, catch it with a net, OR you can put out an irresistible slice of cheese. Since the cheese is an especially powerful reinforcer for the mouse, the mouse will naturally be “baited” and “lured” out of hiding to go get the cheese. Essentially, when implementing behavior traps we are doing the same thing with our kiddos, but we use this strategy to teach them and prepare them to generalize skills!

When I was teaching a client of mine, his absolute favorite food was pizza. So to create and implement a behavior trap I integrated pizza into my teaching strategies. As I was teaching fractions, I allowed my client a 1/2 slice of pizza once he learned how much ½ represented, then 1/3, 1/4  and so forth. This was extremely successful and he later was able to teach his peers how to use fractions. Not only did the skill remain in his repertoire but it also generalized across people and settings.

So go find your prey, your bait… and go set that trap!! Future behaviors are waiting on YOU!


Alber, S. R., & Heward, W. L. (1996). “Gotcha!” Twenty-five behavior traps guaranteed to extend your students’ academic and social skills. Intervention in school and clinic, 31 (5), 285-289. 

Baer, D. M., & Wolf, M. M. (1970). The entry into natural communicates of reinforcement. In R. Ulrich, T. Stachnick, & J. Mabry (Eds.), Control of human behavior (pp. 319-324). Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

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

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