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Partial Interval Recording: A Practical Approach to Behavior Data Collection

Data collection is a crucial aspect of behavioral analysis, providing valuable insights into human behavior. As we navigate ABA, one technique stands out for its practicality and efficiency: Partial Interval Recording.

This data collection method offers a unique lens to view and understand behaviors that traditional counting methods may fail to capture. Whether you’re concerned with behaviors that occur rapidly or have unclear start and end times, partial interval recording comes to the rescue.

In this post, we talk about the intricacies of this method, highlight its benefits, and provide a step-by-step guide to implementing it effectively. So, whether you’re a seasoned ABA professional or just starting your journey, let’s dive into it!

When Should Partial Interval Recording Be Used?

When standard counting methods are insufficient to measure behavior, partial interval recording provides a more practical approach. This technique is ideal for behaviors that occur rapidly or when the timing of the behavior’s start and end is unclear.

To make things easier, partial interval recording divides the observation period into smaller intervals, noting whether the behavior occurs at any point over the given interval. This provides a simplistic, but accurate, way of tracking behavior that may have been impossible to quantify.

As a result, this type of data collection can be quite helpful in measuring the frequency of specific behaviors and providing valuable data.


Partial interval recording offers several advantages when it comes to data collection:

  • Efficiency in data collection: Observers only document whether the behavior occurred at least once within each interval, reducing the time and effort required for data collection compared to other methods.
  • Suitable for low occurrence or long-duration behaviors: This method is beneficial for tracking behaviors with a low frequency or longer durations since it allows continuous monitoring without requiring constant observation.
  • Continuous monitoring of behaviors: By dividing the observation interval into smaller time intervals, partial interval recording provides a comprehensive view of behavior patterns throughout the observation period.
  • Provides data on both frequency and duration with just 1 datasheet:  It will overestimate the duration, but for the right behaviors, it’s helpful to know how much time it’s taking up.

partial interval recording aba

5 Steps to Conduct Partial Interval Recording

To implement partial interval recording effectively, follow these steps:

  1. Define the target behavior: Identify the behavior you want to observe and record.
  2. Determine the observation interval: Select a specific timeframe during which you will observe and collect data on the behavior.
  3. Divide the interval into smaller time intervals: Break down the observation interval into smaller, equal intervals. For example, if observing for 10 minutes, you could divide it into ten 1-minute intervals.
  4. Mark behavior occurrence: Within each interval, indicate whether the behavior occurred at least once.
  5. Calculate the percentage of intervals: Determine the percentage of intervals in which the behavior occurred by dividing the total number of intervals with the behavior by the total number of intervals observed.

Putting It Into Practice: Example

One example where partial interval recording would be an excellent data collection method is in the study of classroom behavior.

Imagine an ABA educator who wants to understand the frequency of a specific unwanted behavior (i.e., head banging, stomping feet) in a student during a lesson. Using partial interval recording, the observer can divide the time frame into smaller intervals — such as every five minutes — and record whether the negative behavior occurred at least once within each interval. This method allows continuous behavior monitoring throughout the lesson without requiring the observer to document every negative behavior.

As classroom behavior can vary and change rapidly, partial interval recording provides an efficient way to capture an overall estimate of negative behavior occurrence. It eliminates the need for constant observation and provides a general understanding of behavior patterns.

Partial Interval Recording vs. Other Data Collection Methods

While partial interval recording is a valuable method for behavior data collection, it’s important to acknowledge that it may not be suitable for all situations. Other methods, such as whole interval recording and momentary time sampling, offer unique advantages.

Partial Interval vs. Whole Interval Recording

When comparing partial to whole interval recording, it’s essential to consider the advantages and limitations of each method.

Whole interval recording involves documenting whether the behavior persists throughout the entire interval.  This can provide more accurate data on high-frequency behavior duration. However, the longer the interval, the more whole interval recording will under-estimate the frequency of the behavior.

Whole interval recording can be time-consuming, requiring continuous observation throughout the entire interval. Additionally, it may be less suitable for low-frequency behaviors, as they may not occur consistently throughout the entire interval.

Use whole interval recording when the goal is to increase behavior as it underestimates the duration of the behavior.

Use partial interval recording when the goal is to decrease behavior as it overestimates the duration of the behavior.

aba partial interval training

Partial Interval vs. Momentary Time Sampling

When comparing partial interval recording to momentary time sampling, it becomes evident that both methods have their strengths and limitations.

Momentary time sampling involves recording whether the behavior occurs at specific predetermined moments, offering efficiency in data collection. However, this method may not capture the complete behavior profile as observations are only made at selected time points. Momentary time sampling can also under-estimate behavior. It is not recommended for measuring behaviors that are low in frequency or short in duration.

In contrast, partial interval recording provides a more information on both duration and frequency.

Ultimately, the choice between these methods depends on the specific research goals and the level of detail required for behavior analysis.

Partial interval recording is a practical and efficient approach to behavior data collection. It enables educators and practitioners to gain valuable insights into behavior patterns, especially for behaviors with low occurrence. By understanding its benefits and limitations, ABA professionals can make informed decisions when selecting appropriate data collection methods in behavior analysis.

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