Behavior falls under two main classes: respondent behavior and operant behavior. As a result, behavior analysts use two main procedures: respondent and operant conditioning. 

Respondent Behavior 

Respondent behavior is behavior that is caused by stimulus in the environment. The behavior is unlearned and a reflex. A behavior is elicited, unintentional and cannot be controlled. 

This was first developed by Watson and made popular by Pavolv in his experiment with dogs salivating.

Dogs salivate naturally as a result of an antecedent or stimulus which is food in their environment. A dog does not salivate on purpose and it does not need to learn how to salivate. It is an unlearned neural response. 

You can also condition a stimulus to produce a conditioned respondent behavior. This is what  Pavlov did with a bell. Just before food was presented which caused a dog to salivate, Pavlov would ring a bell. Eventually, every time the bell would ring, the dog would salivate. The dog was conditioned to salivate when the bell would ring but the behavior was still not voluntary. It was a reflex. 

If you want to untrain a conditioned respondent behavior, you would use extinction. If you ring the bell and no food appears, eventually the dog would stop salivating when you ring the bell since the salivating was previously maintained by pairing the stimulus food which elicited salivating. The bell was only a conditioned stimulus and if it stopped being paired with food, it would eventually no longer cause the reflexive behavior of salivating.

Operant conditioning 

On the other hand, operant behavior is based upon the consequences that follow a behavior. The consequence of a behavior affects future occurrences of behavior. This is the classic three term contingency used in discrete trial training. Unlike respondent behavior, operant behavior is a choice. It is intentional and evoked by a consequence.  

This was first made popular by Skinner. 

Continuing with the example of a dog, let’s examine a case study using my dog Lucky.

Every day I go to yoga. When I go to yoga, I put Lucky in his cage because he enjoys chewing on furniture to express his displeasure of me leaving my home. Whenever I picked up my yoga mat, the next thing I did was tell Lucky to go to his cage. Lucky going into his cage was a consequence of me picking up my yoga mat. Now, whenever I pick up my yoga mat, Lucky goes into his cage without me telling to and each time I lock him in his cage and leave the house. This is not a reflex. Lucky chooses to go into his cage. His behavior is voluntary and a result of past consequences of me locking him in the cage and leaving the house after picking up my yoga mat.  This is an example of operant conditioning.

If I wanted Lucky to unlearn this behavior, I would use extinction which means that I would stop reinforcing previous reinforced instances of behavior. In this example, if I picked up my yoga mat several times throughout the day and Lucky walked into his cage but I did not lock it or go to yoga, like I normally would do, eventually Lucky will stop walking into his cage when I pick up my yoga mat. 

Let’s look at the Antecedent / Behavior/ Consequence in this example to make it very clear.

Antecedent- I picked up my yoga mat.

Behavior- Lucky went into his cage.

Consequence- I locked the cage and left the house. 

Lucky going into his cage was a conditioned operant response that was being maintained by me locking him in his cage and leaving the house. If I stop locking him in his cage and leaving the house when I pick up my yoga mat. Let’s say, I keep a yoga mat in my car and the one I pick up and move around the house no longer results in my locking him in his cage and leaving the house. Lucky will stop going into his cage when I pick up my yoga mat.

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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