Scatter Plot

What is a scatter plot and how do you use it?

The scatter plot is an interval recording method that can help you discover patterns related to a problem behavior and specific time periods. The scatter plot is a grid with time plotted on the vertical line divided into periods of time. For instance, the time listed on the grid might be divided into 15-minute periods. The first time on the grid could be listed as 9:00-9:15, the next as 9:15-9:30, and followed by 9:30-9:45. In another situation it may be more useful to use 30 minute or 1-hour periods depending upon the type of behavior and the length of time you are observing. The horizontal line on the scatter plot grid designates the date the observation occurs.

What role does the scatter plot play in functional assessment?

The scatter plot is a direct observation tool used in the functional assessment process to identify when problem behaviors are occurring.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the scatter plot?

One advantage of the scatter plot is that a number of measurement strategies can be used including frequency counts, duration, or latency recording. Another way to record the data is to indicate low rates of occurrence with one symbol and higher rates of responding with a different code. The exact number of behaviors can also be written into the cells to provide more detailed information. 

A disadvantage is that the scatter plot does not provide a way to document what antecedents and consequences are observed during the sessions. Therefore, additional recording methods are needed to collect data such as the ABC Chart.

Where can I find out more about the scatter plot?

Alberto, P. C., & Troutman, A. C. (1999). Applied

behavior analysis for teachers (5th ed.). 
Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Touchette, P. E., MacDonald, R. F., & Langer, S. N. (1985).
A scatter plot for identifying stimulus control of 
problem behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,
18, 343-351.
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center Product (1999).
Facilitator's guide on positive behavior support.
The Positive Behavioral Support Project, Department of 
Child and Family Studies of the Louis de la Parte 
Institute of the University of South Florida.