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A functional assessment of behavior–often referred to as a functional behavioral assessment, or FBA–is an assessment of the relationship between a person’s target behaviors and his/her environment.  Different levels of an FBA include indirect sources of information (e.g., interviews, questionnaires, rating scales, etc.), descriptive sources of information (e.g., direct observations, data collection of antecedents, behaviors and consequences, or “ABC” data), and experimental sources of information, which are often referred to as functional analyses.  When conducting functional analyses, antecedents and consequences are manipulated in a controlled manner in an attempt to isolate their effects on target behavior(s).


Functional analyses can be designed to include a variety of different conditions; the Catalyst FA tools have been designed with preset defaults to include the following conditions, which are most widely used and supported by the most empirical evidence.

Functional analyses must be individualized for specific users. The following defaults are intended as examples only, and should be altered, where necessary.


Descriptions of Conditions


The purpose of this condition is to determine whether the behavior is maintained by attention from others (i.e., social positive reinforcement).  The individual should be seated and may be given a "medium-preference" leisure item with which to interact.  Attention should be diverted from the individual.  Each time the behavior occurs, the individual should receive 3-5 s of attention for the behavior.  The content of these attention deliveries typically involves social disapproval (e.g., "Please don't do that."). However, the type and specific content of attention (positive or negative) used should match what the assessing practitioner believes occurs in the individual’s “natural" environment (perhaps from a prior descriptive assessment), as different forms of contingent attention–both verbal and physical–have been found to differentially affect problem behavior.


The purpose of this condition is to determine whether the behavior is maintained by escape from or avoidance of instructional or other demands (i.e., social negative reinforcement). The practitioner should provide a task (e.g., academic, habilitative) that has been demonstrated as at least moderately difficult for the individual. When the problem behavior occurs, give the individual a 20- to 30-s break before resuming instruction.  Always praise task compliance. Consider carefully the nature of the demands presented in this condition. The task demands should be similar to those delivered in the “natural" environment in terms of the type of task, rate of presentation of tasks, and level of task difficulty. This information is often obtained during informant and descriptive assessment.

Access to tangible items

The purpose of this condition is to determine whether the behavior is maintained by access to preferred tangible items (e.g., toys, leisure materials). Before the session begins, give the individual brief, free access to a preferred item. At the beginning of the session, remove the item and give it back for 20-30 s if the problem behavior occurs. Providing the individual with any additional attention (e.g., saying "You can have your toy back," providing eye contact) is contraindicated when delivering the item, as this may confound the outcomes of the functional analysis when problem behavior is attention-maintained. This condition should only be conducted when there is strong evidence from prior functional assessment to indicate that access to preferred items may serve a likely maintaining function.


This condition is designed to determine whether the behavior is maintained by automatic reinforcement (i.e., sensory reinforcement or self-stimulation). It is generally recommended that this condition be included in a functional analysis whenever feasible, as its omission may lead to erroneous conclusions about the social nature of the behavioral function. In an alone condition session, the individual is typically left alone for the duration of the session. However, if this is not practically feasible, the practitioner can be present, but should not interact with the individual during the session. In addition, there should be little stimulation in the environment (e.g., no radio, television, or other tangible items). High rates of behavior in this condition may be indicative of an automatic reinforcement function.

Control (Play)

The purpose of the control condition is to provide an "ideal" environment for the individual so that problem behavior should not occur. Therefore, the environment should be enriched with preferred items. The individual should also be given frequent attention on a reasonable schedule (usually 3-5 s of attention every 30 s and in response to appropriate initiations) and no demands should be presented. The purpose of this condition is to reduce the "motivation"  to engage in problem behavior by making freely available all of the potential reinforcers provided contingently in the other test conditions. The control condition should generally produce few problem behaviors; therefore, data from each test condition should be compared with data from this condition to determine whether reinforcement has occurred.


Although the other above conditions cover the majority of typically-identified maintaining environmental variables for problem behavior, it may sometimes be necessary to customize test conditions to assess for an idiosyncratic function. When developing a customized test condition, ensure that the relevant antecedent conditions are present (e.g., unpleasant noise, an adult who can terminate the noise) and that the hypothesized reinforcer (e.g., termination of noise) is delivered contingent on each problem behavior.


Creating a New Functional Analysis

In order to create a new functional analysis, click on the Assessments Tab, and the Functional Analysis sub tab.  


At the bottom of the screen, click Setup New Functional Analysis. 

A popup window will appear to guide you through the set up.

Type the name of your specific functional analysis.  This will appear as the title on your graphs, and should thus include some identifying information, even if just initials.  You may also want to include other identifiers, such as a number or date (e.g., D.F. April-2014), in case you so more than one FA for the same individual.



Select the number of sessions you want to include for EACH separate condition.  You will be able to manually order or randomize the order of these sessions.



Select the duration, in minutes, for each session.  



Terminating Sessions

Should scorers terminate session early, they will be required to enter a reason and data will NOT be saved.


Select the behavior(s) to include in this assessment.  




For the purposes of accuracy, users should generally NOT include more than one behavior.


Select the conditions to include in the assessment.  You will be able to manually order or randomize the order of these conditions.




Once you have completed entering your FA information, click the Save button.



You will then be able to manage the session order.  Catalyst automatically randomizes the order of the sessions.  If you would like to change the order of the sessions you can do so by using the up and down arrows.



If at any time you would like to go back to a randomized order, simply click the randomize order button.  When you are finished ordering sessions, click close.



Your newly created functional analysis will be available for viewing in the list of Functional Analysis Assessments.


You can add sessions, archive the assessment, or view notes written during the assessment by clicking on the Actions menu.


In order to learn more about collecting functional analysis data on your mobile device, please visit Functional Analysis Data Collection.







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