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4 Functions of Behavior

In Applied Behavior Analysis, it is believed that all behavior happens for a reason. Anything a person does that can be measured and observed is defined as behavior, and all behaviors serve a function.

Below are the 4 functions (reasons) a behavior may occur:

1. Escape/avoidance: The individual behaves to get out of (escape) or avoid doing something he or she does not want to do.

Example: Child puts his head down on the desk when presented with academic work. The child is not expected to finish the academic work. The Child learns that putting their head down on the desk will get them out of doing the non-preferred task of academic work.

*Note: Escape-maintained behaviors may be due to lack of motivation to perform the task (they don’t want to) or lack of skill (it is too difficult).

2. Attention: The individual behaves to get attention from parents, teachers, siblings, peers, or other people around them.

Example: The therapist is talking with another adult and the child throws a toy across the room. The therapist looks at the child and explains to them that they need to clean up the toy. The child learns that throwing gets them attention from the therapist.

*Note: Attention doesn’t have to mean positive attention. The behavior may be maintained by attention that doesn’t appear to be that pleasant, such as the caregiver talking in a stern voice or trying to explain reasons why the child should engage in appropriate behavior.

3. Access to a tangible/activity: The individual behaves in a certain way to get a preferred item or participate in an enjoyable activity.

Example: A child wants candy at the grocery store. The child says, “I want some candy” and the parent responds, “no,” the child begins to whine and cry about wanting candy. The parent then lets the child get the candy, now the child learns that whining and crying will get them candy at the grocery store.

*Note: these behaviors can also include a child gesturing what they want or pulling their parents hand in the direction of what they want. However, it can be more severe like throwing a tantrum or engaging in aggression.

4. Sensory: The individual engages in a behavior that is reinforcing to them in some way, and it is not maintained by behaviors from others or outside stimuli. This means, interactions with others is not necessary for reinforcement to occur.

Example(s): A child may cry if he is experiencing discomfort, such as a stomachache or ear pain. Another example is when a person scratches their skin because they have a bug bite and want to relieve itching. In either scenario, the person does not require engagement from another individual.

If you are looking for a therapist to improve the behavior of your children, please contact us or book an appointment today.

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