Seven Dimensions of
Applied Behavior Analysis
The seven dimensions of applied
behavior analysis were introduced by Baer, Wolf, and Risley in
their seminal article, "Some Current Dimensions of Applied
Behavior Analysis" published in the inaugural issue of the
Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (Spring, 1968). These
dimensions describe the fundamental characteristics of any good
applied intervention, carefully distinguishing application from
experimental or conceptual analysis of behavior. These dimensions
can also be used to guide formative analyses of applied behavioral
treatments. That is, treatments that do not feature all seven
dimensions are incomplete and potentially compromised in effectiveness.
All page references are to the original article:
Baer, D.M., Wolf, M.M., &
Risley, T.R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior
analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1,
- Applied: Applied interventions deal with problems
of demonstrated social importance.
- Behavioral: Applied interventions deal with measurable
behavior (or reports if they can be validated).
- Analytic: Applied interventions require an objective
demonstration that the procedures caused the effect.
- Technological: Applied interventions are described well
enough that they can be implemented by anyone with training and
- Conceptual Systems: Applied interventions arise from a specific
and identifiable theoretical base rather than being a set of
packages or tricks.
- Effective: Applied interventions produce strong,
socially important effects.
- Generality: Applied interventions are designed from
the outset to operate in new environments and continue after
the formal treatments have ended.
(Quotes from original text
- Applied: The label applied is not determined by
the research procedures used but by the interest which society
shows in the problems being studied. In behavioral application,
the behavior, stimuli, and/or organism under study are chosen
because of their importance to man and society, rather than their
importance to theory. (p. 92)
- Behavioral: Behaviorism and pragmatism seem often
to go hand in hand. Applied research is eminently pragmatic;
it asks how it is possible to get an individual to do something
effectively. Thus it usually studies what subjects can be brought
to do rather than what they can be brought to say; unless, of
course, a verbal response is the behavior of interest. Accordingly
a subject's verbal description of his own non-verbal behavior
usually would not be accepted as a measure of his actual behavior
unless it were independently substantiated. (p. 92)
- Analytic: The analysis of a behavior, as the term
is used here, requires a believable demonstration of the events
that can be responsible for the occurrence or non-occurrence
of that behavior. An experimenter has achieved an analysis of
a behavior when he can exercise control over it. By common laboratory
standards, that has meant an ability of the experimenter to turn
the behavior on and off, or up and down, at will. (pp. 93-94)
- Technological: "Technological" here means
simply that the techniques making up a particular behavioral
application are completely identified and described. In this
sense, "play therapy" is not a technological description,
nor is "social reinforcement". For purposes of application,
all the salient ingredients of play therapy must be described
as a set of contingencies between child response, therapist response,
and play materials, before a statement of technique has been
approached. Similarly, all the ingredients of social reinforcement
must be specified (stimuli, contingency, and schedule) to qualify
as a technological procedure....The best rule of thumb for evaluating
a procedure description as technological is probably to ask whether
a typically trained reader could replicate that procedure well
enough to produce the same results, given only a reading of the
description. This is very much the same criterion applied to
procedure descriptions in non-applied research, of course. (p.
- Conceptual Systems: The field of applied behavior analysis
will probably advance best if the published descriptions of its
procedures are not only precisely technological, but also strive
for relevance to principle. To describe exactly how a preschool
teacher will attend to jungle-gym climbing in a child frightened
of heights is good technological description; but further to
call it a social reinforcement procedure relates it to basic
concepts of behavioral development. Similarly, to describe the
exact sequence of color changes whereby a child is moved from
a color discrimination to a form discrimination is good; to refer
also to "fading" and "errorless discrimination"
is better. In both cases, the total description is adequate for
successful replication by the reader; and it also shows the reader
how similar procedures may be derived from basic principles.
This can have the effect of making a body of technology into
a discipline rather than a collection of tricks. Collections
of tricks historically have been difficult to expand systematically,
and when they were extensive, difficult
to learn and teach. (p. 96).
- Effective: If the application of behavioral techniques
does not produce large enough effects for practical value, then
application has failed. Non-applied research often may be extremely
valuable when it produces small but reliable effects, in that
these effects testify to the operation of some variable which
in itself has great theoretical importance. In application, the
theoretical importance of a variable is usually not at issue.
Its practical importance, specifically its power in altering
behavior enough to be socially important, is the essential criterion.
- Generality: A behavioral change may be said to have
generality if it proves durable over time, if it appears in a
wide variety of possible environments, or if it spreads to a
wide variety of related behaviors. Thus, the improvement of articulation
in a clinic setting will prove to have generality if it endures
into the future after the clinic visits stop. (p. 96).