Ambassadors' Blog



It’s clear that I see behaviors in my family and my coworkers through a behavior analytic lens. Recently, as I encounter mentalistic concepts, such as feelings and love, I find myself analyzing them through a behavior analytic lens as well. Recently, I was challenged to read the book, “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman and analyze it behaviorally. It didn’t come easily at first; however, the more I got into the book I realized that ABA is in my everyday life and way of thinking, and it became easier.


Dr. Chapman separates his book into five different love languages, which made me think about how we as behavior analysts separate behavior into four functions. The Five love Languages speaks about the ways one’s behaviors can demonstrate love to others. The first love language is words of affirmation. How often do we use praise to reinforce a behavior in others? Dr. Chapman speaks about 5 dialects under words of affirmation: verbal compliments, encouraging words, kind words, words of forgiveness, and humble words. Initially, we assess others’ preference, to identify potential reinforcers; however, we don’t analyze what kind praise functions as the best reinforcer. This book made me think about customizing praise for each unique individual. For instance, when teaching kids to sit in his/her chair during class, we often use verbal compliments such as “I love the way you are sitting so nicely!” Other ways to praise are using encouraging words such as, “You can do it!”; kind words such as “You helped me! You’re the sweetest!”; words of forgiveness such as, “I’m sorry you cannot go on break now, first finish your work, and then we can go on a 5-minute break.”; and humble words such as, “You beat me! You did better than me!” If I can’t assess what type of praise is most reinforcing, this chapter helped me identify different ways to affirm someone and I will know vary to avoid satiation and keep praise effective.


Dr. Chapman identifies a second love language as quality time. In the book, Dr. Chapman elaborates on ways individuals focus on activities that give their full attention to the other partner, such as eating dinner together, asking about your day, going on dates, and putting down your phone while talking. This made me think about ways I can increase quality time with my clients and loved ones to provide them with quality attention. With my clients I am going to make sure I give them my undivided attention, including eye contact, my body orientated towards them, and behavior-specific praise. This will ensure that I give them a quality time as a reinforcer. Dr. Chapman identifies a third love language as receiving gifts. Individuals often engage in behaviors for tangible reinforcers. In the book, Dr. Chapman discuss ways of giving gifts to others, such as a note, souvenirs, to a small shell from the beach. The idea is to let the person know you are thinking of them even if they weren’t next to you. I related this to how I customize token boards with the child’s favorite cartoon, or things.  


The fourth love language is acts of service. When I read this, I thought about ways parents do act of service for their kids, such as tying their shoes, which is their way of showing love, but behaviorally, I see it as leading to prompt dependency. I also thought, if a child likes things to be done for them, this is an establishing operation for mands. The fifth love language is physical touch. This reminded me of a category of reinforcement that often people in our field are afraid to engage in but can be extremely reinforcing to our clients. The book mentions some of the following typographies: holding hands, kissing, embracing, touching a shoulder. This chapter really highlighted valiance, the social appropriateness of behavior given the environment. Although it is appropriate to kiss our families and partners, it is not appropriate to kiss our clients. I thought of ways to incorporate appropriate touch within my practice. Some typographies I thought of that I use are tickles, spaghetti arms, holding hands while on a trampoline, and also ways to increase mands for touch.


The last few chapters of the book help others identify their love language and their partners’. This is the chapter Dr. Chapman was the most behavioral analytic. He suggested 3 methods to assess one’s love language. The first is to ask them, which is synonymous to interviews behavior analysts conduct during assessment with parents. He suggests you simply ask, “I want to do something special for you. What can I do to make you feel loved?” Similarly, to hypothesize function of behavior we sometimes ask parents, “If you want to get your child to stop/start tantruming, what do you do?” Second is observing the things your partner complains about (i.e. You never spend time with me. I do everything around the house). He suggests we make inferences to hypothesize their love language based on trends of complaining. This reminds me of direct observation, such as collecting ABC data. Lastly, he suggested a modified functional assessment. He suggests that a person delivery a specific love language, daily, for a week. Then delivery a different love language for the following week. You analyze their “love” response across the different weeks. The higher their emotional feedback (i.e. smiling, words of satisfaction, decrease in complaining) indicates their primary love language.


It may seem bizarre to analyze the mentalistic concept such as love and feelings behaviorally, however, the language of love and the language of ABA, as evidence by this analysis, are related and can be broken down behaviorally. The BACB task list notes that a behavior analysts should describe and explain behavior, including private events, in behavior-analytic terms (G-5). This has expanded my behavioral lens to other nonbehavioral concepts.

The "Love" Language of ABA 

April 21, 2019 Marlene Costillo 

Three-Term Contingencies: Some Everyday Examples

March 3, 2019  Marlene Costillo 

As I continue to learn more about the field of applied behavior analysis, I constantly look at behavior in a three-term contingency. Recently, I have been focusing on consequences and contingencies that are maintaining behaviors. I’m seeing spoken contingencies, written contingencies, and natural contingencies.

For example, my boss told me a story. He sets a self-monitoring checklist for his daughter. He keeps the list by the door, so she can monitor the items she needs before leaving the house (i.e. cellphone, wallet, keys, water bottle, dishes in the sink). She then self-records on a weekly checklist. If she completed the checklist with 80% accuracy, she earns a preselected reward for the week. In the past, he noted that if the task were not completed to mastery criteria, they removed access to electronic tangibles (i.e. TV, cellphone). This punishment procedure was not effective, therefore, he and his wife isolated a more powerful reinforcer and the contingent punishment never needed to be implemented. She is now independent for the past 2 years.

In my experience, setting contingencies for myself (i.e., self-monitoring) has not been successful. For example, I tried to set an objective to read school related materials for 5 hours a week. I isolated what I thought was a potent reinforcer, a bubble bath. It didn’t even work for the first week and I gave up. I began to analyze the components of my intervention and assessed that my reinforcer, the bubble bath, was not reinforcing enough to increase reading for that target duration. Additionally, no one was stopping me for accessing my reinforcer without meeting criterion. I then revised the plan changing the contingency. I selected a more powerful reinforcer, Pinkberry, and asked my husband to help me stay accountable. I tracked the duration of my reading during the week and he took me out to Pinkberry if I met mastery criterion. The combination of a powerful reinforcer, accountability from others, and perhaps social reinforcement helped the intervention be successful.

I saw a written contingency in the form of a rule in my office kitchen. It read, “Do not leave dishes in the sink. If dishes are sitting for more than 2 days, it will be thrown away!” One of the clinical staff, obviously not rule-governed, left dishes in the sink for 3 days. The writer of the rule washed but hid the clinical staff’s favorite mug. The staff looked for the cup and asked others if they had seen it for several days. Finally, she asked the writer of the rule a second time, “You sure you haven’t seen my cup?” who then replied, “It’s hidden somewhere in the kitchen.” The staff shortly after found the cup. The writer of the rule said, “If it happens again, I will throw it away.” Now the staff washes all dishes immediately after using them. The selection of a powerful punishment consequence administered without warning was an effective contingency whether the staff knew it or not. Also, the follow through of the consequence made this intervention successful. I have also seen many BCBAs use written contingencies to ensure that families are engaged in the therapy. Contingencies are set and explained in three-term contingencies to ensure the effectiveness of the intervention: what is expected (behavior), what happens when you engage in the behavior (consequence), and what happens if you don’t (punishment).

The use of ABA has been drilled into my everyday life as I analyze behavior in others and myself. The contingencies can be altered to fit each individual and achieve the long-term goal. Some may be effective with simple spoken contingency, or natural contingencies, while others, may need written contingencies for it to be successful.

Marlene Castillo is a 2019 NYSABA ABA Ambassador. She is currently a student of Capella University, Master's in Psychology with a concentration in ABA. 

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The New York State Association for Behavior Analysis Inc. (NYSABA) is the state chapter of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), an international organization devoted to the study of the experimental analysis of behavior.


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The New York State Association for Behavior Analysis is proud to be an Affiliate Chapter of the Association for Behavior Analysis International and the Association for Professional Behavior Analysts