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Have You Heard of the 4 Functions of Behavior?

In applied behavior analysis, one of the main areas that analysts study is why a specific behavior keeps occurring. The word behavior can be defined as how an animal or person responds to a particular situation. The function of behavior is the reason why people do the things that they do.

People engage in different types of behaviors every day, all day long. The reason for these behaviors can fall into four different areas that we call functions of behavior.

In ABA, there are four main functions of behavior.


An individual behaves to try and gain attention from another individual around them.

Example: a child is screaming until their parent comes to attend to them. The child learns that they will get attention from their parent by shouting.

Tangible Reinforcement

An individual behaves to try and gain a preferred item.

For example, a child asks their mom for candy in a store. The parent says no. The child starts crying. The parent buys the child the candy. The child learns that they can get the candy by crying.

Automatic Reinforcement

An individual behaves in a specific way because it feels good to them. It can also be referred to as sensory behavior.

Example: A person scratches a bug bite because it feels good to relieve the itching.


An individual engages in a behavior to escape or avoid an activity.

Example: A child is no longer required to complete math homework after throwing a pencil across the room. The child learns that throwing the pencil will get them out of doing math homework.

How do we determine the function of behavior?

Behavior Analysts determine the function of behavior by conducting a functional assessment. These assessments are done by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). A BCBA will gather information about what happens before the behavior and after the behavior to determine the consequence. We also call this the three-term contingency (A-antecedent, B-behavior, C- consequence).

LEAP Autism Therapy functional assessments every day when working with their clients with an autism diagnosis and analyzing behaviors to change a behavior that needs change. If you are looking for ABA therapy, visit LEAP Autism Therapy's website to schedule a consultation to get the process started. We look forward to working with you and your family!

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