Functions of Behavior: 4 Interesting Types of Functions of Behavior

The functions of behavior are essential to know for various reasons. The identification includes choosing socially suitable replacement behaviors, behaviour prevention, and creating behaviour plans.

The Applied Behavior Analysis therapist 1makes data, later analyzed by the BCBA, to maintain a common function behind the behaviour. 

1. Guide to Understanding Functions of Behavior

It is essential to understand that every behavior occurs for a reason. All human behaviour is divided into four functions. The functions of behavior are Escape, Attention, Tangibles, and Sensory. 

The four functions of behavior analysts do not state that the behaviors that occur are bad. They divide the functions of behaviour into positive and negative actions. There is an easy way to remember the functions, that is, “Everybody EATS.” 

E- Escape, A – Attention, T – Tangibles, S – Sensory. 

1.1. Escape:

When something or some signals are undesirable, and a person wants to get rid of them. 

For example, Every time a teacher puts a vocabulary sheet on a student’s table, he rips the paper and throws it. So, the teacher does not make her do the vocabulary sheet. The student does this every time someone tries to give her a vocabulary worksheet because this has become an escaping situation. 

Another Example: Whenever someone asks Jeremy to clean up the mess in his room, he shows tantrum behavior. So, his parents thought that it would be easier to clean up the mess by themselves. Same as in the future, whenever his parent tries to engage him in cleaning, he shows this tantrum 2behavior to escape. 

Whenever someone tries to show up in an escaping situation or tries to avoid a task, then some strategies may be effective such as: 

  • Use a visual schedule
  • Use a first, then board
  • Offering choices
  • Establishing a good rapport, use a social story
  • Clear expectations
  • Follow-through

1.2. Attention: 

Functions of behavior
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When someone tries to seek social interactions. 

For Example, Bonnie screams when her father walks away. Now she engages in the behavior of screaming; her father then returns and asks, “What is wrong?” This kind of behavior is attention maintained because this results in attention. When Bonnie “wants” attention, she screams. 

Another example is Stefan licking a fence in the schoolyard, even when his teacher asks him not to. He continued to lick. So, When Stefan “wants” attention, he licks the fence. 

Licking anything can be a sensory component. In some cases, it serves as attention-seeking behavior. 

1.2.1. Some Other Attention-Seeking Behaviors Are:

  • Fake crying
  • Being too loud, dancing, screaming, jumping
  • Pretending not to do something in which they are perfect
  • Asking somethings often 
  • Whining
  • Acting violently, biting, kicking, or hitting siblings or any other children. 
  • Hitting their head on things, pulling their hair, beating themselves, throwing themselves on the floor. 

If someone is trying to seek attention or aim to engage and get a reaction from another person socially, then some strategies can be effective such as: 

  • Teach them new and positive ways to get attention. Such as by a tap on the shoulder or looking at them and making sure to reinforce when these new ways occur. 
  • Give them attention positively throughout the day. 
  • Ignore them when they seek undesired attention. 

1.3. Tangibles: 

Functions of behavior
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When an individual wants access to a preferred item or activity, a tangible is something one can touch or pick, i.e., access to tangible.

For example: when Damon cries for a pacifier, his mother gives him one. Same in the future, Damon cries when we want a specifier. This results in access to the pacifier.

Another example: is when Jenna wants a toy from her friend. She hits a peer, and the toy drops and her friend starts crying. So, further, when she wants a toy, her hitting behavior continues. So, she has access to the toy she wants. 

If someone is trying to access things by doing mischievous activities, then some strategies can be effective such as:  

  • Teach them to request
  • Increase the variety of items you are interested in, so there are numerous things to help motivate you. 
  • Transitional warnings
  • Teach them to accept a “no” instead of getting access. 

1.4. Sensory

Individuals do some activities that help them feel physically good or get relieved of something when they feel bad. 

For Example, Caroline does hand flopping when there is the absence of a consequence stimulus or specific antecedent. This behavior engages in automatic sensory stimulation. 

Another Example: Elena covers her ears when her peers talk to the rug. This helps Elena to avoid loud noise and engage in automatic sensory stimulation. 

The purpose of the sensory functions of behavior is to get some response from the environment involving various parts. Sound, Taste, Smell, Sight, movements, or body textures can trigger some sensory issues. 

2. Some Examples of Different Functions of Behavior Are

Body movements such as covering ears, hand flopping, and hair twirling. Squeezing or applying pressure to some parts of the body. Placing objects in front of the eyes.

Covering the eyes to avoid brightness or sunlight. Clothing, or ignoring lotions, perfumes, fresheners, aversion to some food textures. 

If your child or someone is internally reinforcing something that engages in getting relief, pleasing sensation, or calming sensation, here are some strategies that can be effective:

  • Introduce them to self-management techniques
  • Rearrange inappropriate functions of behavior or problematic behavior to more functional ones and reinforce those behaviors. Example: Tapping keys on a piano or tapping fingers. 
  • Some incompatible functions of behavior should be reinforced with self-stimulatory behaviors. Example: A child’s flapping hands should be reinforced with a hands fold. 
  • Seek medical advice
  • Do exercise to decrease the functions of behavior. 
Functions of behavior
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3. Assess the Functions of Behavior

We get to assess the functions of behavior by an ABC contingency. ABC stands for: 

  • A: Antecedent, that is, the events that occur when the functions of behavior begin.
  • B: Behavior, the actions that the person performs. 
  • C: Consequence, the events that basically occur after the actions of behavior. 

By observing behavior, we can discover the patterns that play a role in maintaining the behavior over time. 

Example: When you are working with someone with some values and special autism. Then you must try to keep an Antecedent Behavior Consequence chart with yourself, which helps to find the triggers. When the data is covered, you can easily see the patterns, which will help you get the individual’s behavior. By understanding the functions of behavior and the trigger of the behavior, you can easily avoid or prevent negative behavior in the future. 

4. Why is it Important to Understand the Function of Behavior?

The ABCs of Behavior & Function of behaviour

To understand the functions of behavior, you can use a pre-made list of the functions of behavior. This checklist must have the options of antecedent, behavior, and consequence for you to check out. Once you complete filling the list, try to write it in your notebooks along with some examples. Do put your data accurately so that you will be able to understand even after some years. 

Understanding the functions of behaviors helps us to avoid behavior problems. You can also teach your child to fulfil their needs with positive behavior. They also maintain the consistency of the behavior everywhere.

You can identify your child‘s behavior by observing them. Teach them alternative and positive behavior if they are not engaged in polite behavior. 

Identifying the function helps reinforce some new and polite behaviors and helps to increase desired or appropriate behavior. The same needs to be fulfilled with the correct option instead of tangible behavior or attention-seeking behavior. 

5. Reasons for the Occurrence of Behavior

Behavior that a person shows repeatedly serves some purpose for them. If a person engages in a behavior, it is pretty sure that the behavior serves them some function, or they would not continue to show that behavior. 

The word function for a behavior means why is the behavior occurring. It may be difficult for a person to understand why the opposite individual shows a specific behavior. There is always an underlying function of behavior that may be challenging behavior such as aggression or self-injury. 

6. In The End

It is proved that behavior specifically serves more than one function. Example: A child may get hurt when they are in the process of completing some tasks, or they may also get hurt on the ground while playing to seek the attention of everyone. This shows that self-injury behavior can be applied to two different functions of behavior that can also depend on the environment the child is in. 

Functions of behavior
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When one says that “the reinforcement is maintaining it,” it suggests that we can also know why the behavior occurs for any favorable outcome. It does not matter if you choose to describe the functions of behavior or the automatic reinforcement of behavior because both ways are saying the same thing, just different in the terminology. 

It is perfectly fine to use both terms when you want to describe the functions of behavior. Example: You can say that the behavior is taking place because of the positive reinforcement. He may hit his peers in the playground and the functions of behavior to obtain access to the swing during lunch break.

7. Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What Are the Functions of Behaviour?

There are four main functions of behaviour – social attention, access to tangible items or preferred activities, escape or avoidance of demands and activities, and sensory sensitivities (this could be seeking or avoiding sensory input).

Q2. Why Is the Function of Behavior Important?

All behaviour serves a purpose (Alberto & Troutman, 2003). It is important to know why your child is engaging in a problem behaviour so that you know how to react to it. Assessing the function helps us learn what they are getting from engaging in that behaviour.

Q3. What Is the Form and Function of Behavior?

Behaviour can have many different meanings but how it looks isn’t as important as what it’s trying to tell us. The role of the behaviour is the part that tells us why the behaviour occurs. Sometimes, the behaviour looks different but the function is the same.

  1. Wampold, Bruce E., and J. E. S. S. E. Owen. “Therapist effects: History, methods, magnitude.” Bergin and Garfield’s handbook of psychotherapy and behavior change (2021): 297-326. ↩︎
  2. Diaz-Stransky, Andrea, et al. “Tantrum tool: development and open pilot study of online parent training for irritability and disruptive behavior.” Journal of child and adolescent psychopharmacology 30.9 (2020): 558-566. ↩︎

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Rishika Agarwal

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