Discussion: Stimulus Control

Discussion: Stimulus Control

Cooper, Heron, and Heward (2020) describe stimulus control as, “A situation in which the frequency, latency, duration, or amplitude of a behavior is altered by the presence or absence of an antecedent stimulus” (p. 800). In operant conditioning, the three-term contingency refers to antecedent – behavior – consequence. To establish stimulus control, a discriminative stimulus must reliably be followed by reinforceable response, and the probability of receiving reinforcement must be greater under the presence of the SD than in its absence (Borgen, et al., 2017). Each stimulus – response – reinforcer contingency strengthens stimulus control, while each stimulus – response – no reinforcer contingency will weaken stimulus control (Borgen, et al., 2017). For example, my dog has established stimulus control over my letting him outside. He approaches me and makes a very specific sound (SD) which is followed by my opening the door (response) so he can go outside to play (reward). The first time he made the sound, it had no effect, or control over the environment, but with repeated pairings of the SD with the desired response and reinforcement, stimulus control has been established. If I decided the sound were aversive, I could stop letting him outside when he made the noise. He would eventually stop making the noise and find a new SD to elicit his desired reinforceable response.


Borgen, J. G., Mace, F. C., Cavanaugh, B. M., Shamlian, K., Lit, K. R., Wilson, J. B., & Trauschke, S. L. (2017). A method to establish stimulus control and compliance with instructions. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 50(4), 830–842. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaba.419.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). Pearson.


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In the context of ABA, the applied behavior analyst often seeks to increase socially desirable behaviors and decrease socially undesirable behaviors. When a behavior is triggered (i.e., promoted or inhibited) by the presence or absence of some stimulus, the situation is said to have stimulus control. In operant conditioning, the stimulus control originates in something that comes before the behavior, called the antecedent. Therefore, in order to change a behavior, it is useful to understand what antecedents might promote or inhibit a behavior.

For this Discussion, you will consider examples of stimulus control in your environment, including identifying the stimuli that evoke certain desired and undesired behaviors.

To Prepare

  • Review the Learning Resources for this week, including the required weekly media program, to gain an understanding of stimulus control. Note: It is important for you to review the media for this week prior to completing this Discussion.
  • Consider stimuli in your environment that evoke certain desired and undesired behavior.
  • Review the interactive media in the Learning Resources, “Stimulus Control Knowledge Check.”

By Day 4 of Week 10

Post what is meant by stimulus control and describe stimuli in your environment that evoke certain desired and undesired behavior.

Read your colleagues’ postings.

Note: For this discussion, you are required to complete your initial post before you will be able to view and respond to your colleagues’ postings. Begin by clicking on the To Participate in this Discussion link, then select Create Thread to complete your initial post. Remember, once you click on Submit, you cannot delete or edit your own posts, and cannot post anonymously. Please check your post carefully before clicking on Submit!

By Day 6 of Week 10

Respond to at least two colleagues’ posts by expanding on each colleague’s explanation of what is meant by stimulus control and whether you would respond in a similar way to the stimulus.

Be sure to support your posts and responses with specific references to behavior-analytic theory and research. In addition to the Learning Resources, search the Walden Library and/or the internet for peer-reviewed articles to support your posts and responses. Use proper APA format and citations, including those in the Learning Resources.

Return to this Discussion in a few days to read the responses to your initial posting. Note what you have learned and/or any insights that you have gained because of your colleagues’ comments.

Stimulus control occurs when a behavior happens when a particular “stimulus” is there, and does not happen when that “stimulus” is not there (Cooper et al., 2020, p. 40). An example of stimulus control that I experience in my everyday life is traffic lights. In the presence of a red traffic light, the behavior of stopping my car by pressing on the brake is increased. In the presence of a green light, the behavior of putting my foot on the gas is increased. In the case of a yellow light, the behavior of slowing my car by taking my foot off the gas is increased. Another example of stimulus control is my phone making a noise, whether it be a notification or ring. In the case of a notification or ring, I pick up my phone to check it. In the absence of these notifications, I do not typically check my phone. Additionally, after my kids go to bed, I close doors more quietly and walk more quietly throughout the house. These quiet behaviors are increased by my children being asleep, and do not occur when they are awake.


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). Pearson.

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