Topics in ABA: ABC Data

Friday June 12, 2020 at 8:38 AM


If you’re looking to apply some behavior analytic techniques at home, there’s no better place to start than with data collection. BCBAs spend a considerable amount of time observing, defining, recording and analyzing all manner of data related to their clients’ behavior. This is because the success or failure of an intervention will depend, in large measure, on the quality of this information. In fact, without reliable data, there would be no objective way to tell whether an intervention was effective or not in the first place.

In today’s post, we’d like to introduce you to one data recording method that is simple, informative, and easy for you to try at home: ABC data collection. In this context, ABC stands for antecedent (what happens before the behavior), behavior (the thing that we’re interested in learning more about), consequence (what happens after the behavior). Collecting ABC data is as simple as writing down a brief description of each of these three components for any behavior of interest.

For example, suppose a student keeps getting in trouble for making inappropriate jokes in class. The teacher, who is eager for the behavior to stop, decides to collect ABC data in order to get a clearer perspective on what’s going on. The next time it occurs, the teacher fills in the ABCs using a simple three-part table. The result would look something like this:

Now, we might make some inferences about Johnny’s misbehavior from this single instance of ABC recording, but we could do so even more accurately with many examples. So let’s imagine that the teacher collects data in this way over the next several instances and all the ABC charts tend to reflect the same pattern. With these data in hand, what can we now say about Johnny’s behavior?

For one, we might identify a clear source of positive reinforcement in column C. If Johnny’s jokes reliably cause his classmates to laugh, he is more likely tell them in the future. What about column A? While the consequences of a behavior can reveal what is reinforcing it, the antecedents can tell you about the kinds of situations in which the behavior tends to happen. In this example, the teacher learned something that may not have been obvious prior to collecting data, namely that Johnny’s behavior is much more likely to occur during math than other subjects. She might recognize that Johnny is actually having a hard time with his math work, in which case she realizes that the usual punishment of removing Johnny from the class is not actually a punishment at all, but rather another source of positive reinforcement! If Johnny’s classmates laugh at his jokes and he gets out of his math work, then he will definitely be more likely to repeat the behavior in the future. With all this information, the teacher will now be in a much better position to deal with Johnny’s behavior effectively.

If you’d like to learn more about data collection and how it informs effective interventions, contact your child’s BCBA, who will be more than happy to discuss individualized techniques that are best suited to your situation and specific concerns. Please continue to follow our social media and blog posts for related topics and all things new at Gateway.

Have a great day!

Return to Newsroom
To Next Article