This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 05 table of contents.


The next step, after specifying a behavior to be changed, is to measure its frequency of occurrence before attempting to change it. Baselining is keeping a careful record of how often a behavior occurs, without trying to alter it. The purpose of baselining is to establish a point of reference, so one knows later if the attempt to change behavior had any effect. A genuine behavior change (as opposed to a random variation in the frequency of a behavior) should stand out sharply from the baseline rate of the behavior.

What is baselining? What is its purpose? How long should baselining continue, as a rule?

As a general rule, baselining should continue until there is a definite pattern. If the frequency of the behavior varies a lot, baseline observations should continue for a long time. If the behavior is produced at a steady rate, the baseline observation period can be short.

While taking baseline measurements of an operant rate-the frequency of some behavior-an applied behavior analyst should pay careful attention to antecedents -stimuli that come before the behavior. As we saw earlier, discriminative stimuli (both S+s and S-s) act as if they control behavior, turning it on or off.

In what important respect was Lindsley's model incomplete?

During the baseline period, one should keep a record of potentially important antecedent stimuli, as well as the record of the frequency of the behavior itself. One weakness of Lindsley's Simplified Precision Model (previous page) was that it did not mention antecedents. It only mentioned changing consequences of a behavior. Often the relevance of antecedents will be obvious, once they are noticed. For example, if a child's misbehavior occurs every day when the child is dropped off at a nursery school, a good behavior analyst will target this period of the day and try to arrange for a reinforcing event to occur if the child remains calm following the departure of the parent at such a time.

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