Shaping. No, it isn’t an actual shape. No, it isn’t a new form of shapewear. No, I didn’t say to shave. Shaping is when you work on increasing a desired behavior through reinforcing successive approximations of the desired behavior. You keep reinforcing those approximations until you get the desired target response (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007). In a nutshell, you work on small gradual steps to help modify the behavior, until the behavior looks how you want it to. You provide reinforcement, maybe in the form of praise, money, or items, each time the behavior of the individual gets closer to what you want to see. For example, if we were teaching someone to ride a bike, chances are, we wouldn’t say “here’s a bike, go and ride it”! We would probably first give the bike training wheels and praise the person for when they don’t fall off when the training wheels are on. Then we may remove one training wheel and praise the person when they don’t fall off the bike. Next, we take away the training wheels, and have our hand on the individual’s back to help steady them. Then when they are doing well, remove our hand, and the individual is riding a bike. Of course, there are many components to riding a bike and ways we could shape riding a bike. We could also shape the behavior of wearing safety equipment before riding the bike. The concept of shaping is often not the only behavior change principle used. It is not something that can be completed in isolation. Shaping relies on reinforcement principals to help modify the behavior. Remember the phrase, “There is no I in Team”. Shaping is often not used in isolation and it can and should be done by multiple individuals.
Shaping is something that we as humans do all the time. I encourage you to look for examples within your own life that highlight the principal of shaping. Maybe it is when you learned how to write legibly, or when you worked on improving your driving so that it adheres to traffic laws. Whatever the case may be for your example, I hope it helps you see how ABA is all around us. Stay safe and talk to you next time!
-Your friendly neighborhood BCBA, Jenna.