Functions of Behavior


The Four Common Functions
Function Definition Signs Reinforcement maintaining bx
Attention To gain attention. Could be from anyone or from someone specific. ●      Behavior occurs in the presence of others but ceases when no one is around. Positive Reinforcement


Tangible To gain access to a desired item or activity. ●      Behavior occurs when desired activity/item is denied.

●      Behavior occurs when the item is removed or the current activity ends.

Positive Reinforcement

(Social or Automatic)

Escape To terminate or avoid a demand. To get away from something undesirable. ●      Behavior occurs following a demand or presentation of an aversive stimulus.

●      Behavior occurs during a aversive situation.

Negative Reinforcement

(Social or Automatic)

Sensory Internally pleasing. It feels good to the person.

Does not require another person.

●      Behavior occurs with or without others around.

●      Behavior occurs with or without any demand or aversive situation.

●      Person may seem unaware of other people around.

Positive Reinforcement (Automatic)

Negative Reinforcement (Automatic)


  • All behavior serves a function, it is done for a reason. The function is WHY the behavior is occurring. What is the individual trying achieve by engaging in the behavior.
  • Before determining that the function for a behavior is sensory, rule out the other three.
  • A behaviors’ function describes the WHY and the topography describes the WHAT
  • The function of the behavior and the reinforcement maintaining the behavior describe the same thing.
  • The best way to determine the function of a behavior is to take data! ABC data will tell you the antecedent (what happens immediately before the behavior occurs), the topography of the behavior (what it looks like), and the consequence of the behavior (what happens immediately following the behavior).
  • Negative attention (yelling, lecturing, and giving the “look”) is still attention.