C-1: Establish operational definitions of behavior ©

Target Term: Operation Definition 

Operational Definition 

Definition: An observable, measurable description of a target behavior.  

Example in everyday context: You are having a disagreement with your significant other. They tell you that you are “emotionally unavailable”. You ask, “What does that mean?” They define “emotionally unavailable” as “not responding to them when they need to talk, ignoring their attempts for affection, and not providing them with any reassurance.”


Example in clinical context: A clinician is working with a client who takes off their clothes inappropriately. The clinician writes, “Disrobing is contextually inappropriate full or partial undress. It is defined as removal of clothing that results in exposed skin when compared to client’s dressed state (excluding the hands, feet, and head) AND occurs (a) in the presence of another person who is not a caregiver AND/OR (b) in an area of the house other than the bathroom or her bedroom, unless expressly directed to do so by a caregiver.”


Example in supervision/consultation context: A behavior analyst consulting for a company regarding employee performance defines productivity as “completing all assigned work tasks to criterion levels within an eight-hour work period.”


Why it matters: Operational definitions describe exactly what we are measuring. Without operational definitions, our ability to collect and analyze data would be extremely hindered. We need our definitions to be objective enough that multiple people could take the same data on the same behavior.

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