Functional analysis (psychology)

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Functional analysis in behavioral psychology is the application of the laws of operant conditioning to establish the relationships between stimuli and responses. To establish the function of a behavior, one typically examines the "four-term contingency": first by identifying the Motivating Operations (EO or AO), then identifying the antecedent or trigger of the behavior, identifying the behavior itself as it has been operationalized, and identifying the consequence of the behavior which continues to maintain it.

Functional analysis in behavior analysis employs principles derived from the natural science of behavior analysis to determine the "reason", purpose or motivation for a behavior. A functional analysis of behavior requires that data be collected on changes in the dependent variable (behavior) that occur as a result of the direct manipulation of independent variables (antecedents and consequences); therefore, functional analysis of behavior should not be confused with functional assessment procedures such as ABC assessments because they do not involve the direct manipulation of independent variables and the use of experimental designs.[citation needed]

Applications in clinical psychology[edit]

Functional analysis and consequence analysis are commonly used in certain types of psychotherapy to better understand, and in some cases change, behavior. It is particularly common in behavioral therapies such as behavioral activation,[1] although it is also part of Aaron Beck's cognitive therapy. In addition, functional analysis modified into a behavior chain analysis is often used in dialectical behavior therapy.[2]

There are several advantages to using functional analysis over traditional assessment methods. Firstly, behavioral observation is more reliable than traditional self-report methods. This is because observing the individual from an objective stand point in their regular environment allows the observer to observe both the antecedent and the consequence of the problem behavior. Secondly, functional analysis is advantageous as it allows for the development of behavioral interventions, either antecedent control or consequence control, specifically designed to reduce a problem behavior. Thirdly, functional analysis is advantageous for interventions for young children or developmentally delayed children with problem behaviors, who may not be able to answer self-report questions about the reasons for their actions.

Despite these benefits, functional analysis also has some disadvantages. The first that no standard methods for determining function have been determined[3] and meta-analysis shows that different methodologies appear to bias results toward particular functions as well as not effective in improving outcomes.[4] Second, Gresham and colleagues (2004) in a meta-analytic review of JABA articles found that functional analysis did not produce greater effect sizes compared to simple contingency management programs.[5] Third, while functional analysis has been applied to a host of populations (i.e.[6]) much of the current functional analysis research has been limited to children with developmental disabilities.[7]

Professional organizations[edit]

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) also has an interest group in behavior analysis, which focuses on the use of behavior analysis in the school setting including functional analysis.

Doctoral level behavior analysts who are psychologists belong to the American Psychological Association's division 25 – Behavior analysis. APA offers a diplomate in behavioral psychology and school psychology both of which focus on the use of functional analysis in the school setting.

The World Association for Behavior Analysis offers a certification for clinical behavior therapy and behavioral consultation, which covers functional analysis [1].

The UK Society for Behaviour Analysis also provides a forum for Behaviour Analysts for accreditation, professional development, continuing education and networking, and serves as an advocate body in public debate on issues relating to Behaviour Analysis. The UK-SBA promotes the ethical and effective application of the principles of behaviour and learning to a wide range of areas including education, rehavilitation and health care, business and the community and is committed to maintaining the availability of high-quality evidence-based professional Behaviour Analysis practice in the UK. The society also promotes and supports the academic field of behaviour analysis with in the UK both in terms of university-based training and research, and theoretical develop.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kanter, J.W.; Cautilli, J.D.; Busch, A.M. & Baruch, D.E. (2005). Toward a Comprehensive Functional Analysis of Depressive Behavior: Five Environmental Factors and a Possible Sixth and Seventh. The Behavior Analyst Today, 6(1), 65–81.BAO
  2. ^ Sampl, S.; Wakai, S.; Trestman, R. & Keeney, E.M. (2008). Functional Analysis of Behavior in Corrections: Empowering Inmates in Skills Training Groups. Journal of Behavior Analysis of Offender and Victim: Treatment and Prevention, 1(4), 42–51 BAO
  3. ^ Angela Waguespack, Terrence Vaccaro & Lauren Continere (2006). Functional Behavioral Assessment and Intervention with Emotional/Behaviorally Disordered Students: In Pursuit of State of the Art. IJBCT, 4(2), 463–74 BAO
  4. ^ Delfs, C.H. & Campbell, J.M. (2010). A quantitative synthesis of developmental disability research: The impact of functional assessment methodology on treatment effectiveness. The Behavior Analyst Today, 11(1), 4–19 BAO
  5. ^ Gresham, F.; McIntyre, L.L.; Olson-Tinker, H.; Dolstra, L.; McLaughlin, V. & Van, M. (2004). Relevance of functional behavioral assessment research for school based behavioral intervention and positive behavioral support. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 25, 19–37.
  6. ^ Bonem, M.; Stanely-Klime, K.L. & Corbin, M. (2008). A behavioral approach to domestic violence: A functional assessment based on batter contingencies. Journal of Behavior Analysis of Offender and Victim: Treatment and Prevention, 1(2) 210–3. BAO
  7. ^ Gadaire, D.M.; Kelley, M.E. & DeRosa, N.M. (2010). Research Needed for Focusing on Additional Generality of Applied Behavior Analysis. The Behavior Analyst Today, 11(1), 49–58.BAO
  8. ^