Discriminative Stimulus in ABA Therapy: Explained

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ABA therapy is a method of early intervention for autism spectrum disorder which focuses on teaching positive social behaviors and skills. In the context of ABA, discriminative stimulus refers to rewarding or punishing behavior that involves completing an action in response to specific events.

The “discriminative stimulus for punishment definition” is a technique used in ABA therapy. It is a behavior that is designed to teach the child that they are doing something wrong and should stop it.


A discriminative stimulus is a phrase used in behavioral psychology to describe anything that precedes a behavioral reaction, such as a person or an event.

It’s the polar opposite of stimulus generalization, in which a person learns that one activity (such as asking for candy at a grocery store) may also be done in other areas where sugar is available (like a convenience store). A discriminative stimulus, on the other hand, is a behavior that is related with or caused by that stimulus.

The idea stems from operant conditioning, a kind of behavior modification that has become a cornerstone of applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment. To understand the antecedent (or discriminative) stimuli, an autistic client’s behavioral reaction, and the consequences, ABA therapists may employ the ABCs technique. Then they’ll either look for a fresh antecedent or reward a different behavioral response to a prior discriminative stimulus.

What is the Function of a Discriminative Stimulus?

Operant conditioning is a psychology technique for modifying behaviour via reward-based training. Punishments were also utilized to influence behavior in the original animal model.

A discriminative stimulus is anything that causes a certain behavior to occur. The discriminative stimulus is shown initially, followed by behavior as a direct response of the stimulus. The discriminative stimulus communicates the potential to react, whereas the conditioned stimulus induces the response.

Because the ensuing action has been rewarded in the past, the discriminative stimulus sets the stage for a certain behavior to occur. Because the stimuli are particular and evoke a certain reaction, they are discriminating.

What Is Operant Conditioning and How Does It Work?

B.F. Skinner used a contraption called a Skinner Box to create operant conditioning in the 1950s. Animals such as lab rats and pigeons were put in the box and were given a sequence of incentives and punishments to execute specified behaviors.

Some pigeons, for example, were trained to peck keys when they lighted up red and were rewarded with food. They were given a tiny electric shock to deter them from pecking green keys. The color of the key is the discriminative stimulus in this case. If the key is green, the pigeon understands that pecking it will result in positive reinforcement; if the key is red, pecking will result in something unpleasant. As a consequence, the pigeon will learn to peck green keys instead of red keys.

Although Skinner’s study used operant conditioning displays, his method emphasizes that this is a natural element of the human learning process. When toddlers first start to talk, they are taught that various words refer to certain objects.

When a youngster learns to say “Dada” to the first male figure in their life (their father), they may begin to say it to other males they encounter. This is an indiscriminate stimulus, and parents will instruct their children to use the term “Dada” just with their father, making his presence a discriminating stimulus for the word.

Adults participating in a weight-loss program may be given a token as a reward for reducing a set amount of weight as well as a discriminatory incentive to keep decreasing weight, enhancing desire to stay with the program.

Operant conditioning is a technique used in applied behavior analysis (ABA) to assist persons with autism learn when specific adaptive social actions are anticipated so they can react correctly. The antecedent is the discriminative stimulus used in ABA treatment.

The ABC Chart as a Discriminative Stimulus in ABA Therapy

In ABA treatment, the antecedent or discriminative stimulus is part of a process known as the ABCs. This is an abbreviation for:

A. Antecedent: These are the conditions, activities, or events that precede the occurrence of the antecedent.

occur prior to a certain action. The action or result has a consequence.

reaction in response to the client’s actions

B. Response: This is the client’s reaction.

C. Result: This is the action or answer that follows the client’s request.


ABA therapists may use the ABCs to figure out why their clients react the way they do. This is a basic alphabet chart. Examples might include:

A. An ABA therapist assigns a puzzle to an autistic client.

B. The kid screams, “No!”

C. The ABA therapist diverts the child’s attention to something else.

Another illustration:

A. At the start of class, the instructor stands near the blackboard.

B. Students settle down and concentrate on the instructor.

C. Students who become quiet get a prize.

Keeping track of this data may assist therapists, parents, teachers, and other adults in the child’s life in better understanding how antecedents and consequences influence the child’s choices and actions. The youngster will learn to link certain discriminative stimuli, or antecedents, to specific outcomes.

During ABA therapy, an example of a discriminative stimulus

Operant conditioning is used in ABA treatment to reward good behavior and criticize negative conduct.

As ABA therapy grew in popularity as a treatment for autism, programs were chastised for how they disciplined clients, particularly youngsters. Instead of punishing, modern ABA treatment merely fails to reward maladaptive reactions to antecedents and instead utilizes incentives to promote good behavioral change. Children with autism benefit from this kind of operant conditioning because repeated sessions develop adaptive actions.

A case study illustrates how a discriminative stimulus may be employed during ABA treatment. A youngster with autism was taught to control stereotypy using green and red cards as antecedents. Stereotypy is a repeating behavior that is rewarded in the individual’s brain but is maladaptive to communication or socializing. The child’s stereotypic behavior entailed moulding things in front of their face, most often string.

The youngster was allowed to participate in this self-stimulating action while the green card was on their desk. They had to stop and pay attention to their therapist when the red card appeared on their desk.

If the kid’s stereotypic conduct happened while the red card was out, the youngster would be redirected verbally or physically to do something different. They would be warned to stop or the string would be taken away from them, for example. Their attention was then drawn to a new endeavor. The green card might then be put on the table as a prize for not acting stereotypically.

To assist autistic children, ABA employs a variety of behavior therapy concepts.

While using ABCs during ABA treatment, it’s vital to avoid severe penalties, as children with autism may react differently to a harsh tone of voice, the removal of a favorite toy, or something else meant to divert their attention. Instead of rewarding good progress, omitting to reward a maladaptive behavioral response to a discriminative stimuli creates a conditioned stimulus. The youngster then realizes that their actions may result in a favorable outcome.

Other elements in ABA treatment include operant conditioning and other behavioral therapy strategies. If your kid does not react to new discriminative stimuli or changes in consequences for their actions, their ABA therapist may discover alternative approaches to stimulate learning and skill development.


The “stimulus aba example” is a technique used in ABA therapy. It is used to teach children how to respond to certain stimuli, such as the sound of a bell.

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