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Changing Criterion Design

Changing Criterion Design – analyzes the effects of an independent variable across multiple behaviors/settings/participants (dependent variable) without having to withdraw the treatment.

Types of Changing Criterion Design

Increasing rates of behavior

Decreasing rates of behavior


  • Length of phases: should vary considerably to increase validity of the design.
  • Magnitude of criterion changes: experimental control is demonstrated when changes in the target behavior occur to specific levels of a new criterion.
  • Number of criterion changes: each time the criterion changes, the experimental control is strengthened.


  • Does not require treatment reversal, but partial reversals to previous levels demonstrate functional control.
  • A great design for only one target behavior.


  • Not suitable for new target skills.
  • Cannot be considered shaping. With shaping, the target skill is not in the subject’s repertoire. Successive approximations to the terminal goal are shaped to teach the subject the new skill. Changing criterion is not teaching a new skill but changing the level of responding of an existing skill.


Cooper J.O, Heron T.E, Heward W.L. Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson; 2007. [Google Scholar]

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About the Author: Becca Duncan, M.A., BCBA, is a supervisor with the Behavior Analyst Mentorship Network. She has worked in the field since 2012 in residential programs, day programs, schools, in home, and in clinic settings with ages ranging from 2-95-years-old. Becca’s expertise includes ABA therapy, supervision, skill acquisition, children with autism, and adults with complex needs.

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