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Functional behavior assessment (FBA)

Methods enabling hypotheses about the relations among specific types of environmental events and behaviors. Identifies the reinforcers currently maintaining behavior.


Social positive reinforcement (attention)

Immediate attention from others, such as head turns; suprised facial expression; reprimands; attempts to soothe, counsel, or distract; and so on. These reactions can serve to positively reinforce behavior.


Tangible reinforcement

Behaviors resulting in access to reinforcing material or other stimuli.


Automatic positive reinforcement

Behaviors directly produce their own reinforcement. For example, thumb sucking might be reinforced by physical stimulation of either the hand or the mouth.


Social negative reinforcement (escape)

Behaviors learned as a result of their effectiveness in terminating or postponing aversive events.


Automatic negative reinforcement

Aversive stimulation, such as a physically painful or uncomfortable condition, is a motivating operation that makes its termination reinforcing. Behaviors that directly terminate aversive stimulation are therefore maintained by negative reinforcement that is an automatic outcome of the response.


Topography, or form, of a behavior

Behaviors that look the same.



Relationship between a behavior and the conditions that account for a behavior.


Altering antecedent variables

Change and/or eliminate either (a) the motivating operation for behavior or (b) the discriminative stimuli that trigger behavior.


Altering consequence variables

The behavior can be placed on extinction by ensuring that the reinforcer is no longer delivered following the behavior.


Teaching alternative behaviors

Alternative appropriate behaviors that serve the same function (i.e., produce the same reinforcer) as the original behavior could be taught.


Functional (experimental) analysis

Antecedents and consequences representing those in the person's natural environment are arranged so that their separate effects on problem behavior can be observed and measured.


Descriptive functional behavior assessment

Encompasses direct observation of behavior; unlike functional analyses, however, observations are made under naturally occurring conditions.


ABC continuous recording

An observer records occurrences of the targeted problem behaviors and selected environmental events in the natural routine during a period of time. Codes for recording specific antecedents, behaviors, and consequences can be developed based on information obtained from a functional assessment interview or ABC narrative recording.


Conditional probability

The likelihood that a target behavior will occur in a given circumstance.


ABC narrative recording

A form of descriptive assessment that differs from continuous recording in that (a) data are collected only when behaviors of interest are observed, and (b) the recording is open-ended (any events that immediately precede and follow the target behavior are noted).



A procedure for recording the extent to which a target behavior occurs more often at particular times than others.


Indirect functional assessment

Methods using structured interviews, checklists, rating scales, or questionaires to obtain information from persons who are familiar with the person exhibiting the problem behavior (e.g., teachers, parents, caregivers, and/or the individual him- or herself) to identify possible conditions or events in the natural environment that correlate with the problem behavior.


Behavioral interviews

The goal is to obtain clear and objective information about the problem behaviors, antecedents, and consequences. This might include clarifying descriptions of the behavior (consequences); when (times), where (settings, activities, events), with whom, and how often it occurs; what typically precedes the behavior (antecedents); what the child and others typically do immediately following the behavior (consequences); and what steps have previously been taken to address the problem, and with what result.


Behavior rating scales

Ask informants to estimate the extent to which behavior occurs under specified conditions, using a Likert scale (e.g., never, seldom, usually, always). Hypotheses about the function of behavior are based on the scores associated with each condition.


Contingency reversal

If an increase in problem behavior is observed in one of the test conditions, a contingency reversal is implemented to confirm the hypothesis rather than conducting many repetitions of all the conditions.


Funtional equivalent

If problem behavior serves an escape function, then the intervention should provide escape (e.g., in the form of breaks from task demands) for a more appropriate response or involve altering task demands in a fashion that makes escape less reinforcing. Behaviors are functional equivalent.