Understanding The Antecedent Behavior Consequence Model

Updated February 7, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The antecedent behavior consequence (ABC) model is a tool that can help people examine a behavior to better understand its key components, including the event or activity that precedes it and the consequences that follow. By gaining this information, you can then  try to decrease the likelihood of engaging in an unwanted behavior and create new behaviors instead. This article will take a closer look at this model, its advantages and limitations, and how you can try using it to make changes in your own life.

What Is The ABC Model?

Learning To Understand And Change Behavior Can Be Hard

In the ABC model, each letter stands for a key component of a particular behavior: the antecedent, behavior, and consequence. Below, we’ll outline each component and give a few examples of how this tool can be used.

The ABC’s Of Behavior 

  1. Antecedent

The antecedent, which means "something that comes before," can be anything that happens immediately before the behavior in question. Examples include being in certain environments, exposure to certain activities, people, times of day, specific topics of conversation, and more. Gathering this information can help you understand what may be prompting the behavior, which can be helpful if you want to make a change. 

  1. Behavior

The behavior is anything that an individual does, and in this model, it is the action that you are trying to understand and potentially change. Examples of such behaviors could be screaming, consuming a substance like alcohol or tobacco, shutting down, or zoning out. 

  1. Consequence

The "consequence" here means anything that occurs directly after the behavior in response to that behavior. For example, if a person yelling is the observed behavior, the consequence might be the recipient of the yelling leaving the room, or the person yelling being asked to leave the room. This consequence may reinforce a behavior or seek to modify it.  

Common ABC Examples

The ABC model is commonly used in school settings to understand or try to modify student behavior. Small changes to antecedents and consequences in a classroom may help to modify a child’s behavior. For example, if a child struggles to participate in a class (behavior), teachers and parents may try to make slight alterations to the antecedents and consequences to make a difference. If the teacher realizes that a child participates more when they are reminded to raise their hand to answer a question (antecedent) and that the student responds well to praise (consequence), the teacher may more frequently encourage students to raise their hands (altered antecedent), while offering ample positive feedback after a student answers the question (altered consequence).

In adulthood and other settings, the same concepts can apply. For example, perhaps an individual wants to stop eating junk food after dinner (behavior). In examining their behavior, they might notice that every night, the easiest snack to reach in the cupboard is a box of biscuits (antecedent). To try to alter their behavior, they might try to remove the biscuits from the cupboard and replace them with a healthier option (altered antecedent). A person can also adjust consequences by adding certain rewards or coordinating with others to receive positive feedback. 

Advantages And Limitations Of The ABC Model

Now that we’ve established the basics of this ABC model and examples of how it can be used, let’s consider some of its advantages and limitations:


Many people may find the ABC model to be a relatively simple tool to use that can offer insight into behaviors that might otherwise be confusing. It can be used in a variety of settings and situations. You can try using it by yourself to evaluate your behavior and attempt a change or to understand someone else’s behavior. Additionally, the ABC model can also assist professionals when creating a hypothesis for why a problematic behavior is occurring and how to correct or change it.


One disadvantage of the ABC model may be that it can take time and patience, as well as some trial and error. Occasionally, patterns in antecedents and consequences can be unclear or could lead you to draw an incorrect conclusion. While the ABC model can offer insight into a wide range of behaviors, sometimes behavior is too complicated to assess on your own. In this case, it can be beneficial to consult with a professional. An expert may also be able to analyze the ABC charts you've created and identify a pattern. 

Additional Tips For Changing Behavior

Making changes to how you think or act can be difficult, especially if you've been engaging in certain behaviors for a long time. Wherever you are in the process, here are some additional tips to consider as you try to make some changes:

  • Understand That Change Will Take Time

Many of us wish we could make a change happen immediately, and it can be discouraging to slip back into old habits sometimes.

But, it can be important to recognize that change is a process that often requires time, effort, and willpower. If you make a mistake or slip up, don’t give up: try to give yourself some grace, and then keep trying.

  • Provide Yourself With Consequences That Will Drive You Forward

Using the ABC model as a guide, you might consider trying to incorporate clear “consequences” that might give you added motivation to change a particular behavior. These could be positive consequences or rewards for completing a good behavior or negative consequences for completing an unwanted behavior. Consider what works best for you and tailor the your plans accordingly. 

  • Consider Counseling For Additional Support

If you are trying to change unwanted behaviors or incorporate new positive behaviors and would like additional support, you may want to seek the assistance of a mental health professional. However, incorporating anything new into your life and routine—including therapy—can feel difficult at times, especially if you are in the middle of trying to change other behaviors. 

For some individuals, online therapy may feel more convenient, as it can take place wherever you have an internet connection, removing some of the added steps of traveling to and from an office for an in-person visit. 

A common type of therapy that can be used to try to change thoughts and behaviors is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Research into online therapy has demonstrated its effectiveness for a range of concerns, and there is a significant body of research showing the effectiveness of online CBT in particular. For example, one such study conducted an extensive literature review and concluded that “ICBT is useful in treating mental health and medical illnesses with psychiatric comorbidities.”   

If you are interested in seeking help to change certain behaviors, you can read reviews of BetterHelp counselors from individuals with similar concerns below:

Learning To Understand And Change Behavior Can Be Hard

Counselor Reviews

"Jeni has such simple and direct ways of getting to the heart of the matter and such great suggestions for changing behaviors through acknowledging and understanding feelings. I found it especially helpful to write to her; her written responses have been timely and to the point. I so appreciate being able to work with her."

"Mollie is an amazing counselor and professional. She's empathetic, caring, and a great listener, providing real insight into situations and experiences. She has helped me work through several big challenges I have been carrying for a long time. She has been so patient and thoughtful in providing the "why" and helpful in sorting through the "how" to alter my behavior and perspective. I'm so thankful for her expertise; she has helped me change my life this past year."


Whether you’re looking to decrease unwanted behaviors or develop positive new ones, the ABC model may help you to better understand the components of your behaviors and determine how to change them. You can try the technique on your own using some of the tips and information above, or you can connect with an online therapist for additional support.

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