Target Behavior: Definition & Example

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: What Is Child Development? - Definition, Theories & Stages

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 What Is a Target Behavior?
  • 1:04 Characteristics
  • 2:57 Additional Examples
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

In this lesson, we will discuss target behaviors. Learn more about target behaviors, how they are used in the field of applied behavioral analysis, and criteria.

What is a Target Behavior?

Leo is a twelve-year-old who has been having difficulty in school. Leo's teacher reported to his mother that Leo is often angry and disruptive in class. Leo calls other children bad names, refuses to sit in his seat for longer than five minutes, and refuses to follow classroom rules when trying to get the teacher's attention. Leo's mother is concerned about his behavior and decides that Leo would benefit from applied behavior analysis, which is a discipline in which systematic interventions are used to create positive and meaningful behavioral changes. One of the first steps in behavioral analysis is to identify the target behaviors. So then, what exactly are target behaviors?


A target behavior is any behavior that has been chosen or 'targeted' for change. A target behavior should be positive. That means that the target behavior should focus on what you would like the child to do as opposed to what you do not want the child to do. For example, instead of saying 'Leo will not get out of his seat,' an appropriate target behavior would be 'Leo will remain in his seat for at least thirty minutes.'

Target behaviors must be defined in such a manner that the behavior can be observed and measured. We can easily observe if Leo is out of his seat. Likewise, thirty minutes is a fixed amount of time that we can easily measure. A well-defined target behavior is clear, concise, and objective. If these three criteria are met, then any individual should be able to read the target behavior and know what they are looking for.

Likewise, any individual should be able to accurately distinguish between what qualifies as the target behavior and what does not. Suppose the target behavior is 'Leo will be less disruptive.' What is meant by 'disruptive' is unclear. Does this mean that Leo is screaming profanities, hitting his peers, walking out of class, etc.? If we change the target behavior to 'Leo will obtain his teacher's permission prior to exiting the classroom,' it makes it clear exactly what the target behavior is. This makes collecting data on the target behavior and monitoring Leo's progress efficient.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account