What are Functional Assessments and the Four Main Functions of Behavior?

Functional assessments are used to develop interventions for helping people change their behavior.  A functional assessment is a procedure that is used to help identify what is reinforcing or maintaining the behavior of concern.  In order to generate a hypothesis about why an individual does something, a behavior analyst gathers information about the problem behavior (anything an individual does that is harmful or undesirable in some way).  By observing the antecedents (what happened immediately before the behavior) and the consequences (what happened immediately after the behavior) of the problem behavior, behavior analysts can develop a probable cause for the behavior.

Research has shown that function-based interventions are more efficient and effective than interventions that are not matched to the function of behavior

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What is the function of behavior? The function of behavior is the reason people behave in a certain way. People engage in millions of different behaviors each day, but the reasons for doing these different behaviors fall into four main categories.

The four main functions that maintain behaviors are:

  • Escape/Avoidance: The individual behaves in order to get out of doing something he/she does not want to do.
  • Attention Seeking: The individual behaves to get focused attention from parents, teachers, siblings, peers, or other people that are around them.
  • Seeking Access to Materials: The individual behaves in order to get a preferred item or participate in an enjoyable activity.
  • Sensory Stimulation: The individual behaves in a specific way because it feels good to them.

Once you have identified what function or functions are maintaining the behavior, you can start to implement an intervention that will help decrease the problem behavior and increase more appropriate behaviors.

Below is a list of possible interventions that can be used for each function of behavior:

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