Consequences -- Two Specific Meanings for Two Different Situations

Supporting positive behavior makes positive students. Getty/Marc Romanelli


Consequence can mean two different things in two completely different settings.

Applied Behavior Analysis:  One is specific to ABA and is used in preparing a Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA.) This meaning has a specific technical meaning grounded in behaviorism, a school of psychology founded by B.F. Skinner.  ABA is concerned with changing behavior by reinforcing the behavior you want and extinguishing the behavior you want to disappear.

  It is helpful to understand the function of the behavior.  This is found by defining the consequence of the behavior.

The educator, psychologist or behavior specialist preparing an FBA will use a simple formula, ABC, to lay our his or her observation of the target behavior. Consequence in this milieu refers specifically to the purpose of the behavior, by what the consequence reinforces. The consequence within the context of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) helps define the function of the behavior, which is critical for defining the Replacement Behavior, the behavior that you will reinforce while you are at the same time extinguishing the undesirable behavior by not reinforcing that behavior.  Perhaps the consequence, in a specific case, is escape--John hits himself in the head because he knows that he will be removed from his work area and able to avoid the vocational task that was set for him.

Adlerian Psychology: In this milieu, consequence refers to an applied outcome to a behavior within an Adlerian behavioral management system. It posits that all behavior has a purpose, just as ABA does, but behavior also has an outcome, or consequence. Adlerian psychology posits two kinds of consequences, natural consequence, that would happen naturally, in response to a behavior:  i.e. John runs in the street and John is hit by a car.

  The second is a logical consequence, in other words, it is related to the behavior, is unwanted by the child, but is likely to decrease the future incidence of the behavior without putting the child at risk.  In many cases we want to protect our children from the natural consequence of a behavior (having a child hit by a car after running into the road.) Instead, the teacher or parent may structure a logical consequence that teaches. Say, a child forgets his or her homework. He or she cannot go out to recess until the homework is completed. It is logical, it is related to the behavior and it decreases the likelihood of the behavior happening again. An excellent guide to this use of consequence is Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk.

Also Known As: ABA - Reinforcer, Reinforcement


ABA: John cries whenever the classroom aide, Mrs. Palmer, goes and works with another student. Consequence--Attention. John wants Mrs. Palmer's undivided attention.

Adlerian Psychology: John pushes the other children in line, waiting for lunch. Consequence: John must stay in his seat and wait until the other children have left the room before he can walk down to lunch with the classroom aide.

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Webster, Jerry. "Consequences -- Two Specific Meanings for Two Different Situations." ThoughtCo, Oct. 11, 2015, Webster, Jerry. (2015, October 11). Consequences -- Two Specific Meanings for Two Different Situations. Retrieved from Webster, Jerry. "Consequences -- Two Specific Meanings for Two Different Situations." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 19, 2017).