Functional Behavioral Assessment

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Book Chapter

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A functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is a set of procedures that are used to assess and identify environmental conditions that predict and maintain behavior FBA is a means to determine the purpose of a person’s behavior and the ways in which the behavior is reinforced in the person’s environment. Underlying the functional assessment of behavior is the assumption that the way one behaves is functionally related to aspects of the environment. This relation is reliable, predictable, and observable, and can thus be assessed by an outside observer. The FBA entails the use of a series of methods to determine the variables that contextualize a behavior of interest. Contextual variables can include any aspect of the individual’s environment and are usually separated temporally between those factors that occur before a behavior and those which occur after. The latter are termed consequences and the former are typically referred to as antecedents. Usually, the behaviors under study, especially in applied settings, are called target behaviors. Temporally, these factors are conceptualized in an ABC framework: antecedent, behavior, and consequence. The behavior of interest is the target of a subsequent intervention; the intervention is informed by the FBA and utilizes the understanding of the behavior’s purpose. Antecedents are altered such that target behaviors are no longer prompted or motivated by environmental conditions, new socially acceptable behaviors are taught that can access the desired reinforcer and replace the target behavior, and reinforcers are altered to decrease access when the target behavior occurs and increase access when the replacement behavior occurs. FBAs are frequently used in schools to address problem behaviors. Problem behaviors occur with students in the school setting for many different reasons. Research has determined that the use of FBAs is useful in identifying environmental factors that predict and maintain problem behaviors. The use of FBAs in the school setting has proven to increase positive student outcomes. This article demonstrates how FBAs can be used effectively in different settings.



Publication Title

Encyclopedia of Social Work