Three Term Contingency in ABA


Three-Term Contingency in ABA

Your work as an RBT should be guided by just two words: if and then. If and then are used to set up contingencies that lead to opportunities for reinforcement, and, at times, punishment. An if-then statement is called a contingency. You might hear some people refer to it as “first-then.” Whatever way you say it, the goal is the same. If you do X, then Y will happen. But, “if-then” only begins to explain the role of contingencies in applied behavior analysis. You must know the the three-term contingency, or A-B-C, or SD-Response-Consequence.

SD-Response-Consequence, the ABCs of ABA

ABC in applied behavior analysis stands for antecedent-behavior-consequence, or the three-term contingency. The antecedent is what happens right before the behavior, the behavior is what happens, and the consequence is what happens immediately following a behavior. Whenever we are working with behaviors we always want to know what happens right before and right after a behavior. These two things will guide our treatment from inception to conclusion. The technical way to describe ABC is SD (discriminative stimuli)-Response (behavior)-Consequence. It means the exact same thing, but uses the technical terms. Let’s look at some examples.

Examples of the Three-Term Contingency in ABA

Remember, A-B-C, SD-R-C.

Child cries-mom hugs child-child stops crying

Teachers asks a question-I raise my hand-teacher calls on me

Light turns red-I hit the brakes-car stops

The oven timer goes off-I take the food out-I turn the timer off

Use Contingencies!

Understanding contingencies is the first step to becoming a great behavior technician or analyst. Contingencies are powerful. If you set up good contingencies you create opportunities to reinforce desired behaviors. Additionally, understanding antecedents and consequences will give you insight into why a behavior happens, and how it’s being reinforced or punished. Before you learn anything else, master contingencies. It is important to note that a contingency is not a bribe. We do not use bribes in applied behavior analysis. A bribe occurs when the learner receives their desired consequence prior to completing the response. In essence, the opposite of a contingency.

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