Behavior functions in applied behavior analysis

Behavior Functions In Applied Behavior Analysis

What are the functions of behavior in applied behavior analysis?

In the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA), Certified Behavior Analysts and Certified Behavior Analysts consider that all behaviors that an individual produces in the environment must occur for a reason. This is called behavior functions in applied behavior analysis.

The functions of behavior in applied behavior analysis can be defined as follows:

1- Escape

It is to give up doing something that the individual does not want to do, and this is the definition of the escape function.

Example, A child who feels anxious may hide from social situations to avoid showing social skills in a group of people. Therefore, the individual may resort to running away to avoid engaging with others. Or the individual may avoid eye contact, Or he may put his head down while walking.

Some of the behaviors that an individual does when escaping:

  • Avoid physical discomfort.
  • Avoid social situations.
  • Escape.
  • Avoid others.
  • Hiding.

2- Draw attention

An individual may behave in undesirable ways just to attract the attention of parents, teachers, or others. Attention seeking behavior can be appropriate or inappropriate depending on the situation itself. Example, The child may raise his voice to get the attention of the parent or teacher.

We may think about drawing attention to ourselves because sometimes it can be a positive way to share and interact with others. So some children may behave in undesirable ways just to attract or attract attention even if that attention is not positive.

Some of the behaviors that an individual does when attracting attention:

  • Voices are loud.
  • Whining.
  • Excessive disturbance.
  • Raising your hand or waving your hands.

3- Obtaining tangible materials or activities

An individual may behave in a negative and unwanted way just to get something they want or to engage in their own activity. Where the behaviors displayed by an individual to obtain tangible materials can be positive or negative, for example, It is possible for a child to get into a fit of anger trying to get a certain toy or activity.

Some of the behaviors an individual does to obtain tangible materials or activities:

  • A child gets angry to get a material object such as getting his favorite toy.
  • Stealing something desirable from a store or from others.
  • Buying the desired thing.

4- Self-reinforcement

One of the best ways to describe sensory function is for the child to do some fun things for himself. Example, Wrapping hair around fingers. These examples can be considered as the child’s self-enhancement, i.e. (sensory arousal), and some may hum or crack their fingers.

Some of the behaviors that fall under self-reinforcement:

  • Hair or skin pulling.
  • Finger snapping.
  • Wrap hair.
  • Making internal sounds.

note: The function of each particular behavior may not be clear, Therefore, parents may sometimes assume that each specific behavior has one function, while the function of the behavior may be unclear.

Example : The child Ahmed cracks his fingers on a daily basis when he is in the car on the way to school in an attempt to attract the attention of a parent, but this is likely to be a function of the behavior and it may be true for some children, but it is possible that the cracking of the fingers is in fact self-reinforcement for the child.

How to benefit from behavior functions in applied behavior analysis

A certified behavior analyst identifies the function of undesirable behavior, Understanding why the behavior occurs will help the specialist determine a way to help the child without the unwanted behavior occurring.

Once the clinician understands why undesirable behaviors occur, the clinician must develop intervention strategies to reduce these behaviors.

What is the method of using reinforcement to reduce unwanted behaviors?

In applied behavior analysis, learning is viewed as occurring sequentially. According to learning theory where learning occurs due to A – antecedents B – behavior, And the results in C.

Some undesirable behaviors appear because they are reinforced with a positive result. A certified behavior analyst must determine why unwanted behavior occurs and what reinforces this behavior.

Reinforcement can be used to increase positive behaviors and reduce negative behaviors. Therefore, The specialist must understand the function of the behavior and then can determine how to use positive and negative reinforcement and how to reduce or stop negative behaviors.

When you stop negative behaviors, The therapist will identify the consequence that reinforces the behavior and then stop the reinforcement provided for the negative behavior by removing the reinforcer from the consequence sequence of the previous behavior. This strategy is called amortization.

What does the firefighting strategy depend on?

The extinction strategy depends on the function of the behavior in which the child engages, Therefore, if unwanted behavior is reinforced through positive reinforcement, the reinforcer for the behavior must be stopped.

Example of implementing a firefighting strategy

A child may scream for attention in class and the attention generated by this behavior may be a positive reinforcer for him and should be stopped.

This behavior itself may fulfill the function of escape, for example, The child was taken out of the classroom because he had a temper tantrum. Taking the child out of the classroom may provide positive behavior reinforcement.

In this case, The teacher should stop reinforcing the child and take him out of the classroom. However, when a child is taken out of the classroom, there must be an escort for him.

If the negative behavior has a sensory function, The reinforcement will be done automatically, for example, The child may scream because his voice resonates in the place, and he will find that this sound reinforces him. To extinguish this behavior, the physical environment must be rearranged so that the screaming behavior does not reinforce the child with his echoing voice.

How can we use reinforcement to increase desired behaviors?

In applied behavior analysis, negative behaviors are replaced with positive behaviors. Once the certified behavior analyst identifies the function of the undesirable behavior, he will intervene and develop a plan to reduce and limit the negative behavior.

An example of applying reinforcement to increase desired behaviors

If the child Ahmed engages in negative behaviors to attract and draw the attention of the teacher in the classroom to ask some questions, In this case, the teacher must stop the undesirable behavior. But the child Ahmed needs to know how to get attention appropriately in order to serve the function of “attention-getting” behavior, so the teacher must develop a strategy to help the child replace unwanted behaviors with desirable behaviors.

The first step , if the child shouts to attract attention when he has a question, first the unwanted behavior must be stopped, by asking the child to stop or by using non-verbal behavior. The goal here is to teach the child the appropriate way to attract the required attention.

The second step, When negative behavior is stopped, the child is redirected by the teacher to replace the unwanted behavior with positive behavior. Example, A child who interrupts the teacher during a lesson may be asked to stop. The first step here is to replace the behavior with a desirable behavior. The teacher will simply remind the child to raise his hand, and the positive behavior here is raising the hand, and it will be immediately followed by a positive reinforcer.

The third step, Positive reinforcement must occur immediately after the desired behavior occurs. It should be immediately after the desired behavior occurs such as verbal praise, non-verbal praise, a smile, or rewarding the child by providing access to a toy or food that he has previously identified as a strong reinforcer. The certified behavior analysis specialist will also determine the appropriate reinforcers for the child.


The Four Functions of Behavior – Hidden Talents ABA