Description, Prediction, Control in Applied Behavior Analysis | A-1

description prediction control understanding of science bcba task list applied behavior analysis

Science in ABA: Purpose and Characteristics

The overall goal of science is to achieve a thorough understanding of the phenomena under study. Science is not just about discovering new information, but about gaining a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the world around us. In the case of applied behavior analysis, the goal of science is to gain an understanding of socially important behavior change. In ABA, the three levels of understanding of science are description, prediction, and control. Science is an essential part of our lives and our practice. Good science in ABA leads to socially valid and meaningful behavior change.


Description is the most basic level of understanding of science in behavior analysis. Description is the knowledge of an event of phenomenon that allows us to being forming hypotheses or predictions of research. Although description does not attempt to draw correlations, or establish functional relationships, description is a foundational aspect of ABA practice. Description includes the facts about events that can be observed, measured, and examined.


Prediction is the second level of scientific understanding in ABA. Prediction occurs when repeated observations start to indicate a correlation between the two events. Although causation is not established with prediction, it is an essential step in setting up an experiment to establish experimental control. Prediction occurs when one event tends to happen in the presence of another event. If you see sunshine and grab sunglasses, those two things are correlated.


Control is the highest level of scientific understanding. To establish control, independent variables must be manipulated leading to a change in the dependent variable. Repeated manipulation of variables can establish more and more experimental control (or a functional relationship). Although true causation is difficult to prove, control is the most effective way to identify possible causation between two events. We use control in behavior analysis to determine the effectiveness of our interventions and treatments.

Preparing for the BCBA®exam?

Make sure you check out our study materials: BCBA®Exam Prep Materials

ABA Exam Review YouTube Channel