A Unique book. The reader "sits in" on a simulated classroom taught by "Dr. Cee" and learns the essentials of ABA.

First Course in Applied Behavior Analysis

From Chapter 1, The ABC’s of Applied Behavior Analysis:

Hello, I'm Dr. Cee, and I am your instructor for this course.

Before we actually begin our study of behavior analysis, I want to say a few words about the way the course will be conducted. It is a rather unconventional approach, so please pay careful attention.

To begin with, none of you is actually a real person; you are all merely characters in a book. I have created you out of dreams and stardust, as the poet says. You are what is known as a literary device, a mechanism for accomplishing some purpose. In this case, the purpose is to convey to my readers the central ideas of behavior analysis in an effective and engaging way. That is why you are here, and I hope you are up to the task.

“Dr. Bee?”

That's Cee, as in the third letter of the alphabet, John. Here, I’ll write it on the board.


“Oh. Sorry. Dr. Cee, I’m a bit confused.”

Inevitably, John. So are some readers.

“Some what?”

Never mind. You had a question?

“Right. I’m confused. Are you actually saying that we are all just characters in a book?”


“But that’s crazy. I mean, I’m real! I can see you and the classroom and the other students. I can feel the chair I’m sitting on. You’re even talking to us. How can you say we’re not real?”

I didn’t say you weren’t real, John. I said you weren’t real people. You have a kind of reality. You exist within the realm of these pages. This book is your world, and, although it isn’t perfect, it’s a pretty good world as worlds go. You come to life whenever any character in a book comes to life – when someone reads the book.

“I agree with John, Dr. Cee. This sounds like a class in existential philosophy. I mean, I know I’m not just a figment of somebody’s imagination.”

Well, Carlotta, you are free to believe that you are a real person; it does no harm. And we haven’t time to pursue the philosophical problem of proving one’s existence. Let’s go on with the matter at hand, which is to introduce this course.

Each class period (which is, from the reader’s standpoint, a chapter) will follow the same basic structure. Each day will focus on a new topic. I don’t usually lecture for a long time. I generally use a sort of Socratic technique that involves asking you a lot of questions. I also hope that you will ask questions or make comments about the day’s topic.

Of course, I hope that the reader will attempt to answer these questions — yours and mine — before reading further. In fact, that’s the whole point of the questions – to get readers actively involved in the “class” I’m conducing. That way, this text becomes a kind of tutorial: The reader attempts to answer a question raised by one of us, and then reads the answer. Instead of just reading about the subject, the reader becomes an active member of our class.

At the end of the day’s lesson, I will give you a number of handouts. Some of these will be exercises of various sorts, at least some of which I think you will enjoy. They are intended to help you (and the reader, of course) learn the concepts covered in the lesson.

For instance, one of today’s handouts is an exercise I call “Feed the Skeleton.” This is a skeletal outline of the day’s lesson. Your task is to fill in the missing information – to put some meat on the bones – by providing missing information. This exercise will help you review, and it will help you understand how the various points covered in the lesson are related to one another. At least, I hope it will.

Other handouts are meant to encourage you to think critically about a specific problem related to the day’s lesson. For instance, you might be asked to suggest how you would apply a particular procedure to a hypothetical problem.

Some handouts are outside reading materials. I wrote a few of these myself, but most are by other people and have been published before. They cover topics not covered in the day’s lesson.

Another handout is a list of suggested readings. These items are all relatively short, and most are easy to read. If you are seriously interested in behavior analysis, or if you contemplate a career in psychology, social work, or some other area dealing with human behavior, you should read at least a few of the items on these lists. Many of them are classics.

The last handout is always a set of endnotes concerning points covered in the day’s lesson. They include references for research studies mentioned, discussion of some of the finer points of behavior analysis, and, once in a while, one of my quips.

“One of your whips! Wow, this class is beginning to sound kinky.”

Quips, Alfred! Quips! A little joke. A bon mot. A pun. A funny remark. A –


“You didn’t mention our text. Isn’t there a text for the course?”

We/i> are the text, Alfred. That’s what we’ve just been talking about. You and your classmates and I are the text. And, of course, the exercises and reading assignments I mentioned. Really, Alfred, you must pay closer attention.

“Sorry. I forgot.”

Now, let’s talk about behavior analysis:

Behavior Analysis

Behavior analysis is such a young field – it’s only about 50 years old – that people are still arguing about how to define it. I’d like the field to come up with a definition that is short and simple, something like the definition biologists use for their field: the study of living things.

One short, simple definition of behavior analysis that I have proposed is:

Behavior Analysis: The study of behavior change.

I like that definition because it seems to me that the unique focus of behavior analysis is how and why behavior changes. People in other fields – cognitive psychology, social psychology, anthropology, and sociology, to name a few – are interested in behavior, but they are not especially interested in understanding how and why behavior changes; behavior analysts are.

Perhaps that definition will catch on eventually, but until then I have to ask you to learn a more conventional definition. I’ll put it on the board, and then we’ll discuss it:

Behavior Analysis: The study of the functional relations between behavior and environmental events.

“I like the first definition better.”

Well, thank you, Belinda. So do I… Now, this definition, the more formal one, requires that you understand three concepts: functional relations, behavior, and environmental events. Let’s take each in turn.

Functional Relations

A functional relation is one in which one event varies dependably with another:

Functional relation: The tendency of one event to vary in a regular way with one or more other events.

The simplest sort of functional relation is the one that is stated, “If X, then Y.” This means that if event X occurs, then event Y occurs....

Copyright © 1998 by Paul Chance

Books by PC

"Although I have been teaching for over 50 years, I learned a lot in my reading of The Teacher's Craft. Paul Chance knows his way around a classroom, and he knows his way around scholarly literature on teaching."
--Robert Rosenthal, University of California, Riverside.
"Superb book that should be essential reading for all teachers."
-- Judy Cameron, University of Alberta.
"The book is extremely readable without sacrificing accuracy."
--Elizabeth Street, Central Washington University
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--Cam L. Melville, McNeese State University
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