February 25, 2024

ANTECEDENT MODIFICATIONS (in “Normalspeak”, changing what happens before the behavior)


doctor cartoon

Did you ever hear the old joke about the guy that goes to the doctor?  He says to the doctor, “Doc, it hurts my arm every time I do this,” (as he raises his arm).  The doctor, looking thoughtful, says, “Well, don’t do that!”  I’ll bet you’re wondering, “What does an old vaudeville routine have to do with behavior modification?”   Simple!  By avoiding or changing the THINGS THAT TRIGGER behaviors, we can better manage them.


Behaviorists describe behaviors in three parts labeled “the ABC’s”:

  1. 1.     Antecedent,
  2. 2.     Behavior,
  3. 3.     Consequence.

Antecedent behavior consequenceIn the previous articles, you learned about the Behavior (What is the function?) and you learned about consequence (reinforcement).   This article will focus on antecedents...the things that happen before the behavior.

For practical purposes we are concerned about two things that happen before a behavior:

  1. 1.     Triggers  &
  2. 2.     Setting events.

Triggers are the things that consistently cause the behavior to happen.  For example, if someone jumps out and startles you, you jump.  Analyzing the triggers allows us to answer the question: “What is the function of the behavior?”.  It also allows us to predict when a behavior is going to happen .

Setting Events are situations and environments where the behavior is more likely to occur.  Example: I am not much of a morning person.  To get through the morning, I rely on set routines because my brain is not typically fully engaged when I first wake up.  Change my routine even a little bit and I am more likely to forget things, become grumpy, etc.

What do we do with this information?

At the very least , if you understand the triggers and setting events of behaviors…you can use that knowledge to  eliminate the behaviors by:   1) removing triggers and/or 2) avoiding setting events .  Conversely, you can elicit  desired behaviors by:  1) creating setting events and/or 2)  putting triggers into the environment .


Try this to reduce “stop” behaviors:

  • Write down all the possible setting events and triggers of the behavior.  (You should have a good idea about this from when you were figuring out the function of the behavior).


  • Now, for EACH event and trigger, ask yourself,  “Can I make this go away?”


  •  If the answer is yes, then take steps to eliminate the stressor.
  • If the answer is “no”, then ask yourself “Can I reduce this or make it happen less often?”
    •  If that answer is yes, take steps to make the stressor less prevalent in your life.
    • If that answer is “no”, then ask yourself, “What do I have to do to live with this?”

v  The answer to that question will lead to a CONCRETE PLAN you can follow.  Simple…but not easy. Most good thing in life are like this.

Try this out and let me know how it’s working for you.  Above all, DON’T PANIC.  Breathe.  You’ve got this.

I welcome your questions.   I can be reached at erikyounglpc@verizon.net

Find out more about me and schedule a complimentary session at www.erikyoungtherapy.com

Copyright 2013 Erik Young, M.Ed.,LPC

Share Button

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: