Distinctive Features of Functional Analysis
Functional analysis is distinguished from other types of assessment by these features:
- Functional analysis concerns itself with the function of behavior. It attempts to answer the question ‘Why is this behavior occurring?’ Determining the function of a given behavior by analyzing its antecedents and consequences allows the therapists to make hypotheses about how the behavior can be changed. For example, consider a patient who routinely talks about off-topic subjects through their therapy sessions. On its own this information is not very informative. They may do this as an attempt to avoid having to approach difficult material, or because their therapist is ineffective at keeping to an agenda.
- Functional analysis assumes that behavior cannot be understood in isolation. An individual’s behavior only makes sense when it is understood in the context of his or her environment. For example, two clients attending a group treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder are observed to sit silently through the sessions. At face value the behavior appears to be the same. However, when context is included in the analysis it becomes apparent that one client has occasions where she would like to speak but is experiencing frequent flashbacks, whereas the other client sits next to a vocally dominant member of the group and has little opportunity to be heard.
- Functional analysis concerns itself with the behavior of individuals. This is termed an ‘idiographic’ approach. It is contrasted with a ‘nomothetic’ approach which would investigate causes of behaviors across individuals.
- Functional analysis leads directly to treatment interventions. “A well-done functional analysis leads logically to interventions that manipulate the environmental variables identified in the assessment” (Haynes & O’Brien, 1990).
The Three-Term Contingency
The three-term contingency is also known as the ABC contingency. It describes the relationship between a behavior, its consequence, and the environmental context.
- Antecedents are defined as “environmental stimuli or events that are consistently present in the context in which the behavior occurs” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 1987).
- Behavior can be defined as anything done by an individual, and can include private events such as thinking or feeling (Pierce & Cheney, 2004).
- Consequences are defined as “changes in the environment that occur after the behaviour and that alter the probability of future occurrences of the behaviour” (Rummel et al., 2012).
Rummel et al. (2012) display the ACBT contingency in a deliberate fashion:
Antecedent : Behavior → Consequence
They note that the colon separating Antecedent and Behavior denotes that the Antecedent does not cause the Behavior, but sets the occasion for it. The arrow between Behavior and Consequence denotes that the Behavior produces the Consequence.
Relationships Between Behaviors and Consequences
If a consequence leads to an increase in a behavior’s frequency then the behavior is said to be reinforced by the consequence. Similarly, punishment describes the decrease in the frequency of a behavior as a function of the behavior’s consequences. When a behavior no longer produces a consequence it goes through the process of extinction. Contingencies of reinforcement and punishment are given below:
|Following the behavior the stimulus is:|
|Effect on the probability of behavior||Increases||Positive reinforcement||Negative reinforcement|
|Decreases||Positive punishment||Negative punishment|
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis.
Haynes, S. N., & O’Brien, W. H. (1990). Functional analysis in behavior therapy. Clinical Psychology Review, 10(6), 649–668.
Pierce, W., & Cheney, D. (2004). Behavior Analysis and Learning New Jersey: Laurence Erlbaum Associates.
Rummel, C., Garrison-Diehn, C., Catlin, C., & Fisher, J. E. (2012). Clinical functional analysis: Understanding the contingencies of reinforcement. In W. T. O’Donohue & J. E. Fisher (Eds.),Cognitive behavior therapy: Core principles for practice(pp. 13–36). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
- How to conduct a functional assessment & develop behavior plans to reduce problem behaviors
- Functional analysis of behavior download archived copy
- Functional behavior assessments and behavior support plans download archived copy
- Functional analysis of problem behavior: the basics – Brian Iwata
- Hanley, G. P., Iwata, B. A., & McCord, B. E. (2003). Functional analysis of problem behavior: A review. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 36(2), 147-185 download archived copy
- Haynes, S. N., O’Brien, W. H. (1999). Principles and practice of behavioral assessment. Springer.
- Iwata, B. A., Dorsey, M. F., Slifer, K. J., Bauman, K. E., & Richman, G. S. (1994). Toward a functional analysis of self‐injury. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 27(2), 197-209 download archived copy