Behavioral and Functional Analysis of Children

Analyzing children's behavior in terms of fundamental learning principles is called behavior analysis. There are three types of learning: (1) classical conditioning, which is concerned with learning that occurs as a result of the positive or negative consequences of behavior, (2) operant conditioning, which is concerned with learning that occurs as a result of the positive or negative consequences of behavior, and (3) modeling, which is concerned with the process of learning behavior through observing others.

In clinical practice, behavioral analysis is part of an operant-based evaluation that looks at a problematic target behavior and the observable antecedent and subsequent environmental events that are assumed to be related to the target behavior. Following this evaluation, also known as functional analysis, therapy focuses on changing or reordering the antecedent and subsequent stimuli that elicit or reinforce the problematic behavior.

Method of Behavior and Functional Analysis

To gather information about maladaptive behaviors and the personal or environmental factors that may maintain or exacerbate them, behavior analysts use various assessment techniques or methods, including direct observation, self-reports, structured interviews, and, at times, psychophysiological recordings. Typically, information is organized in schematic models. Stuart's (970) antecedents-behavior-consequences (ABC) model is simple, yet it may be highly beneficial for understanding children's behavior.

The ABC model demonstrates that Jenny's problematic behavior at home is perpetuated, for the most part, by her mother's replies in the instance of Jenny, a 6-year-old kid with significant behavioral difficulties. The mother explicitly supports Jenny's defiant behavior by feeding her an ice cream cone. Jenny's behavior is also reinforced since she stops shouting and weeping as soon as she gets her ice cream.

According to Lang (968), in a variant of the ABC model, the B component is divided into three reaction systems: physiological, cognitive, and behavioral. This model is widely employed in the case of anxiety since it adequately covers the many components of this sort of condition, namely autonomic feelings (e.g., tachycardia, accelerated breathing), catastrophic thoughts (e.g., "I am going to die"), and avoidance or escape behavior.

Kanfer and Phillips' (970) more complicated SORKC model aims to add information about the individual whose behavior is being examined. SORKC stands for the components that should be examined in order to gain a complete picture of a child's problem behavior: S denotes the stimulus that elicits the target behavior, 0 denotes the organism's biological condition, R denotes the target behavior, K denotes the contingency relations between the target behavior and its consequences, and C denotes the target behavior's consequences. Ollendick and Cerny (981) have mainly applied this concept to children and adolescents.

Clinical Application

Functional analysis is the cornerstone of treatment for behavior therapists. A detailed examination of the issue behavior gives the best beginning point for intervention. However, it should be noted that functional analysis is typically undertaken through an informal, subjective, and unsystematic procedure with unclear dependability.

Many of the controlling variables in functional analysis are hypothetical constructs for which no objective test has been performed to establish if they affect the target behavior. Furthermore, the therapeutic efficacy of functional analysis has yet to be experimentally validated. It has to be observed, mainly if a functional analysis improves the intervention's efficacy.

Behavior Contracts

The origins of behavior contracts may be traced back to applied behavior analysis. A behavior contract is a generally written agreement describing the behaviors expected of the kid and the reward that will be provided if the desired behavior occurs. Frequently, the contract will also identify unacceptable behavior and the repercussions that will be delivered due to such behavior. When creating a behavior contract, using explicit language to define the desired (or unwanted) behavior is critical.

This is done to avoid future disagreements about whether a specific behavior occurred. It is also critical that the other party follow the terms of the contract. Punishment or reinforcement must be administered immediately and depending on the behavior outlined in the contract.

Behavior contracts have been utilized in educational settings with children who exhibit poor behavior. The penalty for undesirable behaviors like assaulting other children is stated, as is the reinforcement for positive behaviors such as quick attendance in class and completion of tasks. One key aspect of school-based contracts is the specification of reinforcers supplied at home in exchange for desired school behaviors.

The benefit of such a contract is that reinforcers accessible at home, like access to television and pocket money, are frequently more effective than those provided at school. This is commonly known as a "home-school" report card.

Behavior contracts include the development of rule-governed behavior in the kid, as they help the youngster learn to obey rules that specify desired behaviors and their consequences. These are technically command rules because the therapist controls the reinforcement that follows behavior. This contrasts the advising rules used in problem-solving training, where the clinician does not control the effects of alternative issue solutions but only advises on them.

Behavior Modification

The strategies employed in behavior modification are based on operant conditioning principles. The concept that human behavior is influenced by events before (antecedents) and after (consequences) is central to operant conditioning. The chance that a particular behavior will be repeated in the face of the prevalent antecedent events is determined by the consequences of that behavior. If a reward follows a behavior, it will likely repeat itself. It is less likely to happen again if it is not accompanied by reinforcement or if it is followed by punishment. To modify behaviors, behavior modification approaches often entail using reinforcement or punishment.

The terms behavior modification and applied behavior analysis are occasionally used interchangeably. However, many writers believe there is a distinction between the two, with the former referring to an earlier and less well-developed set of processes than the latter. Applied behavior analysis identifies the antecedents and consequences currently associated with specific behavior and then systematically modifies those antecedents and consequences to change the behavior. In contrast, behavior modification is less concerned with understanding the antecedents and consequences that now maintain the behavior.

On the other hand, it is based on the introduction of reinforcement or punishment that is more effective than any existing consequences, therefore overcoming the impact of such consequences. Its emphasis is on altering behavior rather than comprehending the circumstances that lead to it.

Traditional behavior modification treatments are often chosen over applied behavior analysis procedures because they are more likely to be effective and are usually less invasive. Consider a youngster who shouts in class to gain the teacher's attention. A classic behavior change strategy would entail punishing the calling out with anything like being locked in during lunch.

A behavior analysis method would see that crying out was to obtain the teacher's attention. It would next teach the youngster a proper method of accomplishing this, such as raising his hand, and offer reinforcement for doing so.


Behavior analysis analyzes children's behavior in terms of fundamental learning principles. It is part of an operant-based evaluation, and therapy focuses on changing or reordering the antecedent and subsequent stimuli that elicit or reinforce the problematic behavior. SORKC is a concept used to gain a complete picture of a child's problem behavior. Functional analysis is the cornerstone of treatment for behavior therapists but has yet to be experimentally validated.

Behavior contracts are formal agreements that describe behaviors and reward rewards. Behavior contracts and behavior modification strategies are based on operant conditioning principles, which involve using reinforcement or punishment to modify behaviors. Behavior modification is less concerned with understanding the antecedents and consequences that maintain the behavior and is more effective and less invasive than applied behavior analysis.

Updated on: 09-May-2023


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