The conceptual and methodological foundations of behavioral treatment are to be found in what is known as the functional analysis of behavior (Skinner, 1953,1969), according to which the measured interactions between behaviors and environmental events specify their functions for the behaver. That is, in a functional analysis, behavioral and environmental events are defined in terms of their causal relationships with one another.
In application, functional behavior analysis seeks to discover, through the experimental method, events preceding behavior (antecedents) and those following behavior (consequences) that have demonstrable effects on such measurable behavioral dimensions as frequency, duration, intensity,and location of the behavior in space and time (Lindsley). Functional behavior analysis applies to both manipulation of already existing behaviors and the development (i.e., teaching) of new forms of responding (cf. Barrett, 1977). For example, the term “reinforcement” is applied to an event that follows a behavior if — and only if — it can be demonstrated that the subsequent event actually increases the frequency (that is, functions as a reinforcer) of that behavior exhibited by the individual in question.
The applied behaviorist seeks to alter behavior by manipulating antecedent and consequent events in such a way as to achieve an explicit behavioral objective — a specific, measurable behavior change. Thus, clinical assessment, in the framework of behavior analysis, always involves measurement of past and current behaviors and the conditions under which they occur, either through direct observation or through the client’s verbal report.
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