Chapter 13 – Understanding Problem Behaviours through
Functional Assessment: conducting an assessment of the three-term contingency to
determine the antecedent events that evoke the behaviour and the reinforcing
consequences that maintain it.
Defining Functional Assessment
Functional assessment is the process of gathering information about the antecedents
and consequences that are functionally related to the occurrence of a problem
behaviour. It provides information about why a problem behaviour is occurring.
Time and place of behaviour
People present when behaviour occurs
Any environmental events immediately preceding the behaviour.
Frequency (and other dimensions of the behaviour.
Categories of Information from a Functional Assessment
Problem behaviours: an objective description of the behaviours that make up the
Antecedents: objective description of environmental events preceding the
problem behaviour – aspects of the physical environment and behaviour of other
Consequences: description of environmental events that follow the problem
behaviour – aspects of physical environment and behaviour of other people
Alternative behaviours: information on desirable behaviours in the person’s
repertoire that may reinforced to compete with problem behaviour
Motivational variables: information on environmental events that may function as
establishing or abolishing operations to influence the effectiveness of reinforcers
and punishers for problem and alternative behaviours
Potential reinforcers: information on environmental events (including physical
stimuli and behaviour of other people) that may function as reinforcers and be
used in a treatment program
Previous interventions: information of interventions from past and their effects Functions of Problem Behaviours
Social Positive Reinforcement
Def.: when a positively influencing consequence is delivered by another person after the
May involve attention, access to activities, tangibles from another person
Social Negative Reinforcement
Def.: when another person terminates an aversive interaction, task, or activity after the
occurrence of a target behaviour and, as result, behaviour is more likely to occur.
Example: student who bangs her head when told to do a task may escape from
task as a result.
Automatic Positive Reinforcement
Def.: when the reinforcing consequence of a target behaviour is not mediated by
another person but occurs as an automatic consequence of the behaviour itself.
Example: child with autism may rock in their seat because the behaviours
produce reinforcing sensory stimulation.
Automatic Positive Reinforcement
Def.: when the target behaviour automatically reduces/eliminates an aversive stimulus
as a consequence of the behaviour and the behaviour is strengthened. Not mediated by
Example: binge eating – binge eating may be maintained by the reduction in
unpleasant emotional responses that were present before eating. When the
person experiences strong unpleasant emotions, binge eating temporarily
decreases the unpleasant emotions.
Functional Assessment Methods
Behavioural interviews and questionnaires are used to get information from the person
exhibiting the problem behaviour and from others who know the person well.
Also known as informant assessment methods Advantage: they are easy to conduct and don’t take much time. There are many
interview formats and questionnaires that already exist.
Disadvantage: they rely on the informants’ memories of the event. This means that the
assessment may be biased or incorrect.
A good behavioural interview is structured to get information from the informant that is
clear and objective.
Information includes: problem behaviour, antecedents, and consequences –
without inferences or interpretation
Goal of behavioural interview is to generate a hypothesis about the controlling variables
for the problem. Once an interviewer can find a reliable pattern of antecedents and
consequences, the interviewer can develop a hypothesis about the antecedents that
have stimulus control over the problem behaviour and the reinforcer that maintains it.
Researchers suggest using multiple assessment methods to counteract disadvantages.
Direct Observation Methods
Direct observation = someone observes and records the antecedents and
consequences each time the problem behaviour occurs.
The observer can be: the person experiencing the behaviour or another person
associated with them. Observation usually takes place in natural environment unless
the person is in a treatment setting.
ABC observation (another name for direct observation assessment): goal of ABC
observation is to record the immediate antecedents and consequences typically
associated with the problem behaviour under normal conditions.
Advantage of ABC: an observer is recording the antecedents and consequences as
they occur instead of relying on someone’s memory. This means that it’s more likely to