What Type of Data Collection Is Required to Determine the Function of the Behavior?


Larry Thompson

Understanding the function of a behavior is an essential step in behavior analysis and intervention planning. By determining why a behavior occurs, we can develop effective strategies to address it.

However, to accurately determine the function of a behavior, we need to collect specific types of data. In this article, we will explore the various data collection methods used to identify the function of a behavior.

Direct Observation

One of the most common and reliable ways to determine the function of a behavior is through direct observation. This involves closely monitoring and recording the occurrence of the behavior in its natural environment. To ensure accurate data collection, it is crucial to use descriptive and objective language when recording observations.

ABC Data

ABC stands for Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence, which refers to the three components that shape behaviors. By collecting ABC data, we can identify patterns and potential triggers for the behavior. The antecedent is what happens right before the behavior occurs, while the consequence is what happens immediately after.

Note: When collecting ABC data, it is important to include both positive and negative consequences as they may influence the function of the behavior.

Duration Recording

In some cases, it may be necessary to measure how long a behavior lasts. Duration recording involves noting how much time elapses from the beginning to end of a specific behavior. This type of data collection can be useful when dealing with behaviors that persist for extended periods or have varying durations.

Indirect Assessment

In addition to direct observation, indirect assessment methods can provide valuable insights into understanding the function of a behavior. These methods rely on gathering information from individuals who are familiar with the person exhibiting the behavior.


Interviews with parents, caregivers, teachers, or other individuals who interact with the person regularly can provide useful information about the behavior. Structured interviews with specific questions or open-ended interviews that allow for more detailed responses can help identify potential functions of the behavior.

Questionnaires and Surveys

Questionnaires and surveys are another way to gather information from multiple sources. These tools often include standardized questions that assess various aspects of the behavior, such as frequency, intensity, and possible triggers. By analyzing the responses, patterns may emerge that shed light on the function of the behavior.

Functional Analysis

In certain cases where direct observation and indirect assessment methods do not yield conclusive results, a functional analysis may be necessary. A functional analysis involves systematically manipulating antecedents and consequences to determine their impact on the behavior’s occurrence.

Controlled Conditions

During a functional analysis, specific conditions are created to test different hypotheses about the function of the behavior. These conditions may include providing attention or removing attention when the behavior occurs or manipulating other variables related to reinforcement or escape.

  • Tangible Reinforcement: The behavior is followed by access to desired items or activities.
  • Attention: The behavior is followed by social interaction or attention from others.
  • Sensory Stimulation: The behavior serves to provide sensory stimulation or relief.
  • Escape: The behavior allows escape from undesired situations or demands.

The data collected during a functional analysis can help confirm or rule out potential functions of the behavior and guide intervention planning effectively.

Closing Thoughts

Determining the function of a behavior is crucial in developing effective interventions. Through direct observation, indirect assessment methods, and functional analysis, we can gather the necessary data to understand why a behavior occurs. By using these data collection techniques in combination, behavior analysts can make informed decisions and design Targeted interventions that address the function of the behavior.

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