Comparing the Detection Accuracy of Operational Definitions and Pinpoints

Richard M. Kubina, Madeline Halkowski, Kirsten K.L. Yurich, Kimberly Ghorm, Nora M. Healy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Operational definitions have a significant history in applied behavior analysis. The practice's importance stems from the role operational definitions play in detecting an event, human thought, or action. While operationalizing target behaviors has enjoyed widespread practice, some concerns have recently arisen with translation validity and detection accuracy. Additionally, a review of the literature produces few articles assessing the validity of operational definitions. Pinpoints represent an alternative for describing target behaviors. A pinpoint has a formula for construction that includes using an action verb, an object, or event that receives the action, and a comprehensibly defined context where the observation of the action verb + object or event occurs. Pinpoints also have few empirical studies demonstrating their validity. The following experiment compared the detection accuracy of an operational definition for self-injurious behavior and a corresponding pinpoint across professionals who worked in a school that served clients with autism spectrum disorder. The results indicate lower accuracy scores for the operational definition when compared to the pinpoint. Additionally, the consistency of scores varied more for the operational definition than the pinpoint.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-162
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Behavioral Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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