Functional Analysis: The Sexy Side of ABC

Functional (ABC) assessment allows us to hypothesize the relationships between environmental variables (antecedents and consequences) as well as the behavior being assessed. Functional analysis is the formal test of those hypotheses.

Most often, assessing the ABCs of problem behaviors tells us what we need to know to replace the problem behavior and teach new skills. However, when a behavior is complex or high-stakes, i.e., dangerous to the learner or the caregivers, functional analysis may be necessary. Conducting a functional analysis requires training and research skills, because the strategy is defined by arranging situations to produce the problem behavior.

Functional analysis is the most precise, rigorous, and controlled method for demonstrating unambiguously the functional relationship between behavior and environment. That’s sexy!

Susan G. Friedman, PhD

Susan G. Friedman, PhD, is a professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. She has helped pioneer the cross-species application of behavior analysis to animals, using the same humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology that have been so effective with human learners.


Susan has co-authored chapters on behavior change in four veterinary texts, and her popular articles have been translated into 13 languages. She offers seminars on animal learning at conferences and zoos around the world, is a member of Karen Pryor Clicker Training’s ClickerExpo faculty, and teaches yearly hands-on animal training workshops with Steve Martin at Natural Encounters, Inc.

The Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the American Humane Association (AHA) Film and TV Unit, Susan is a member in good standing of ABAI, AZA, ABMA, IAABC and IAATE.

This year Susan was included on the Vet Tech College’s list of 15 Animal Professors to Know. Her acclaimed online course, Living and Learning with Animals for Behavior Professionals, has provided even wider dissemination of effective, humane, behavior-change practices to students in more than 30 countries.