The Functions of Behavior

The Functions of Behavior

A behavior is the activity of living organisms; human behavior includes everything that people do.” According to Cooper, Heron, and Heward (2007) the technical definition of a behavior is “that portion of an organism’s interaction with its environment that is characterized by detectable displacement in space through time of some part of the organism and that results in a measurable change in at least one aspect of the environment.” (Cooper, p.690). In other words, if a dead man can do it, it’s not behavior. (Cooper, Heron, and Heward, 2007).

The function of behavior is the reason people behave the way they do. The following are the four main functions of problem behavior.

  • Social Positive Reinforcement (Attention)
  • Tangible Reinforcement
  • Automatic Reinforcement (Positive or Negative)
  • Social Negative Reinforcement (Escape)

Social Positive Reinforcement (attention) is when a person behaves a certain way to gain attention from another person.

Example: Billy’s Mom is on the phone, Billy jumps on the couch and screams, mom gets off the phone and tells Billy to get off the couch. Billy gained access to his mother’s attention by screaming and jumping on furniture.

Tangible Reinforcement is when a person behaves a certain way to gain access to a preferred item or activity.

Example: Billy asked his mom for a candy bar while at the store, his mother said no so Billy flopped to the floor while crying. Mom told him to get up and gave him a candy bar. Billy engaged in problem behavior in order to gain access to a preferred item.

Automatic Reinforcement (sensory stimulation) is when a person behaves a certain way because it feels good to them.

Example: Billy rocks back and forth because it feels good to him. Billy does not try to gain access to anything or escape anything with this behavior, he is only rocking for his own enjoyment.

Social Negative Reinforcement is when an individual behaves a certain way in order to get out of, or avoid something they do not like.

Example: Billy’s teacher told him it was time for music class. Billy threw his chair and proceeded to run out the door to the gym. When Billy’s teacher found him she said he could play in the gym instead of going to music. Billy engaged in problem behavior in order to escape/avoid music class.

At Unlocking The Spectrum we complete assessments, observations, and behavior data in order to interpret the exact function of our client’s behavior. After determining the function(s), individualized behavior intervention plans are created for each problem behavior. Behavior data is continuously analyzed to show a decreasing trend in all target behaviors. Behavior plans and data are reviewed quarterly by the Regional Director and Clinical Director.

Citation: John O. Cooper, Timothy E. Heron, and William L. Heward (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis. Columbus, Ohio.