Chapter 13: Understanding Problem Behaviors through Functional Assessment
•This section of the text describes behavioral procedures for understanding problem behaviors and
increasing or decreasing existing behaviors.
•When using behaviour modification procedures to help a person increase a desirable behaviour or
decrease or eliminate an undesirable behaviour, the first step is to understand why the person
engages in the behaviour.
•To do so, you must conduct an assessment of the three-term contingency to determine the
antecedent events that evoke the behaviour and the reinforcing consequences that maintain it.
•Identifying these variables before treating a problem behaviour is called functional assessment.
Example of Functional Assessment
•Jacob, a 2 year old boy was engaged in problem behaviors involving throwing objects,
banging his head on the ground and whining.
•His mother was concerned about his problems and agreed for a psychology student named
Rich, to try to decrease Jacob’s problem behavior.
•The first step to Rich took was to conduct a functional assessment to determine why Jacob
was engaging in these behaviors.
•First, Rich interviewed Jacob’s mother and asked her questions about the problem behaviors,
the setting and the day care routines, the antecedent circumstances, the consequences when
Jacob engaged in the problem behaviors, other behaviors that Jacob engaged in, and previous
treatments that she had tried with Jacob.
•After the interview, Rich observed Jacob in the day care setting and recorded information on
the antecedents, behavior and consequences each time Jacob engaged in the problem
•Using the information from the interview and observations, Rich developed a hypothesis
about the function of the problem behaviors.
•He determined that Jacob was more likely to engage in the problem behaviors when other
children in day care took his toys or tried to play with his toys.
•When Jacob engaged in the head-banging, whining, or toy-throwing, the other children were
likely to stop playing with his toys and give the toys back to him.
•Rich hypothesized that the reinforcer for the problem behaviors was that the other children
gave Jacob gave back his toys.