Understanding Problem Behaviors through Functional Assessment
Functional assessment understand WHY the person engages in the behavior by determining the antecedent
events that evoke the behavior & reinforcing consequences that maintain it
o Always the first step in using behavior modification to increase a desirable beh & decrease or problem
o process of gathering info about antecedents & consequences functionally related to the occurrence of a
I. Examples of Functional Assessment
With Problem Behavior With Treatment
Antecedent: Other kids play w/ Jacobs toys Antecedent: Other kids play w/ Jacobs toys
Behavior: Jacob bangs his head, whines, & Behavior: Jacob asks for his toys back
throws toys. Con: The kids return Jacobs toys to him.
Con: The kids return Jacobs toys to him.
OUTCOME: Jacob is more likely to ask for his
OUTCOME: Jacob is more likely to engage in toys back when other children play w/ his toys.
head-banging, whining, & toy-throwing when
other children play w/ his toys.
With Problem Behavior With Treatment
Antecedent: Annas mother is not paying Antecedent: Annas mother is not paying
attention to her. attention to her.
Behavior: Anna hits, kicks, & screams Behavior: Anna asks her mother for attention.
Con: Annas mother pay attention to her. Con: Annas mother pay attention to her.
OUTCOME: Anna is more likely to hit, kick & OUTCOME: Anna is more likely to asks for her
scream when her mother is not paying attention mothers attention when her mother is not paying
to her attention to her at the time.
Note: When a child asks for attention as an alternative to the problem beh, the child may then ask for attention
so often that this beh itself becomes a problem.
SOLN: W/ each successive request for attention, the parents wait longer & longer before responding.
Eventually, the child asks less often.
II. Defining Functional Assessment
One basic principle of beh analysis is that beh is lawful. Regardless of whether the beh is desirable or
undesirable, its occurrence is controlled by environmental variables.
Functional Assessmentthe process of gathering info about the antecedents & con that are
functionally related to the occurrence of a prob beh
o Provides detailed info about antecedent stimuli (time & place of behavior, people present when
the behavior occurs, any environmental events immediately preceding the behavior & frequency
of target behavior).
This type of info on the 3 term contingency will help you to identify the antecedents that
have stimulus control over the beh & the reinforcing con that maintain the beh
o other types of info appropriate for developing appropriate treatments for problem behavior i.e.
existence of alternative behaviors that may be equivalent to problem behavior, motivational
variables, stimuli that may function as reinforcers for the person & history of previous treatments
& outcomesCATEGORIES OF INFO FROM A FUNCTIONAL ASSESSMENT
Problem behaviors: an objective description of the behaviors that make up the problem
Antecedents: an objective description of environmental events preceding the problem behavior, including
aspects of the physical environment and behavior of other people
Consequences: an objective description of environmental events that follow the problem behavior including
aspects of the physical environment and the behavior of other people
Alternative behaviors: info on desirable behaviors in the persons repertoire that may be reinforced to compete
with the problem behavior
Motivational variables: info on environmental events that may function as establishing operations to influence
the effectiveness of reinforcers and punishers for the problem behaviors and alternative behaviors
Potential reinforcers: info on environmental eventsincluding physical stimuli and the behavior of other
peoplethat may function as reinforcers and be used in a treatment program
Previous interventions: info on the interventions that have been used in the past and their effects on the
III. Functions of Problem Behaviors
Functions of Problem Behaviors 4 broad classes:
1) Social positive reinforcement: A positively reinforcing consequence is delivered by another person
after target behavior which involves attention, access to activities or tangibles by another person i.e.
Annas attention and Jacobs toys(tangible)
These con make the beh more likely to occur
2) Social negative reinforcement: Another person terminates an aversive interaction/task/activity after
occurrence of target behavior
E.g. child who complains to his parent when asked to do a chore gets out of doing the chore
In each case, being allowed to escape from the chore or task strengthens or reinforces the
Another e.g. Asking a friend not to smoke in your car is vely reinforced