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Four Functions of Behavior

By Quiera Bonds, RBT

In the Applied Behavior Analysis field, Behavior Analysts use the functions of behaviors to help them identify the reason a behavior is occurring. This is important and helps assist us when we are developing treatment plans for the problem behaviors. This is important because it helps to include behavior preventions, selecting socially appropriate replacement behaviors and helping with developing the treatment plans (American Psychiatric Association, 2017).

There are four (4) functions of behavior:

Escape: There is an undesirable situation and the individual wants to get away from it. An example is the therapist says, “Count to 10, and the learner starts to scream and looks away.”

Access to Tangibles: The individual wants access to a particular item or activity. An example is “Jake was playing on the tablet and the Therapist takes it away so they can work, Jake screams at the therapist. If screaming get access to tablet, then the screaming will continue.”

Sensory Stimulation: The individual’s movement/actions feel good to them. An example of this, A child flaps their hands back and forth as they are sitting in their chair. If the flapping of the hands gives that individual the sensory input they are seeking, then the flapping of the hands will continue.”

Access to Attention: The individual is seeking access to social interaction. An example of this is a child starts to scream “Look!” If the screaming gets access to attention, then screaming will continue.

Understanding the functions of behaviors helps to prevent some problem behaviors. It helps us to teach the individual better ways to have their needs met and helps to aide in having consistency. For the Behavior Analyst to identify the functions of behavior the ABA therapist or the Behavior Analyst will observe the individual and take data on what behaviors they observed. In their observation they will describe what the individual is doing or what is taking place before and after the problem behavior occurs. Once this is done the will analyze the data and determine the function of the behavior. Once the function of the behavior has been determined, the Behavior Analyst can write a treatment plan that will teach a replacement behavior that will meet the same needs as the problem behavior while reinforcing the replacement behavior. Understanding the function of the behavior will help to decrease the problem behavior and will increase appropriate and desired behaviors (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

For more information on how to determine the function of your child's behavior please email us at


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental

disorders. 4th ed. Text revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric

Association; 2017.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall

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