How collected data affects the definition of behavior. Consider the need for behavior definitions to be objective and measurable and to focus on overt behaviors.
Explain what could happen if data were collected using a behavior definition that was not objective, measurable, or specifically focused on overt behavior. How would the data collected vary from an objective, measurable, and specific focus on overt behavior? How would this impact the subsequent steps in the functional behavior assessment process?
A behavioral definition is a precise, objective, unambiguous description of the target behavior or a competing behavior.
Our behavior may be an excess and something we need to decrease or a deficit and something we need to increase. No matter what type of behavior we need to change, we must state it with enough precision that anyone can read our behavioral definition and be able to accurately measure the behavior when it occurs. Let’s say you want to exercise more. You could define it as follows:
Okay, so if you went to the gym and worked out for 40 minutes, you would have made 2 behaviors. If you went to the gym for 60 minutes, you made 3 behaviors. What if you went to the gym for 30 minutes? Then you made 1.5 behaviors, correct? No. It does not make sense to count half a behavior.
Here are sample behavioral definitions for some of the pre-approved behaviors from Planning Sheet 1:
Keep your behavioral definition simple. Don’t make it reflect whatever your end goal will be, discussed in section 3.2. For instance, if your overall goal is to run for 60 minutes, do not make your behavioral definition to be 1 behavior = 60 minutes of running. Since we do not count partial behaviors, you will show no behaviors made until you finally reach 60 minutes of running. How low should you go then? If 60 is too high, do you define it as 1 behavior = 1 minute of running? Likely not.
Think about what is the least amount of time you would run. If it is 5 minutes, you could set it at 1 behavior = 5 minutes of running. Then if you run 30 minutes you would have made 6 behaviors. If instead you set it at 1 behavior = 20 minutes of running, you can only count 1 behavior and the other 10 minutes are unaccounted for.
Think about what denomination of time is most practical for your situation and where you are starting out at. If you have never run before, a smaller increment of time might be better. If you run 30 minutes a few days per week and want to simply double your time, then you could use a greater increment such as 10, 15, or 20 minutes.
It is prudent to create behavioral definitions for the target behavior but also any competing behaviors that may occur. If we want to go to the gym more often, we might discover when examining our antecedents that playing games on our phone in the morning or talking to our roommate in the afternoon leaves us with not enough time to work out. We would then define this competing behavior, or a behavior which interferes with the successful completion of a target behavior, and then when developing our plan, implement strategies that make the distractor less, well, distracting.
Before we move on to goals, it is important to point out that you likely know the concept of a behavioral definition on some level. In your introductory psychology course, or your research methods class, you should have talked about the operational definition which is a precise definition of all variables being studied. What if we were studying depression in our sample of college students?
We might define it as how well the person holds down a job, class attendance, what the DSM 5 indicates, their own self-report about depressive thoughts, or physiological measures. The definition we use depends on the research question that is asked, and the group being studied. In any event, a behavioral definition is basically an operational definition applied to behavior modification procedures.