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Finding the Causes of Problem Behaviour

Finding the Causes of Problem Behaviour

Project Title: A Screening Procedure for Problem Behavior Maintained by Automatic Reinforcement
Investigators: Drs. Javier Virués-Ortega and Toby L. Martin
Affiliations: St.Amant Research Centre and Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba


Some individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities engage in problem behaviours to experience various forms of sensory stimulation. For instance, a child with autism may repeat persistently a particular arm movement, may switch on and off a light, or rock the upper part of his body. However, it can be hard to distinguish the influence of this motivation from that of other motivational sources (e.g., social attention).


In the present study we will evaluate a brief assessment procedure that would determine as quickly as possible if problem behaviour were sensory-motivated. We’ll compare the results of this assessment with a more thorough procedure called functional analysis that considers a wider range of motivations.

Significance of Study

Finding the cause of problem behaviour is crucial for developing effective intervention plans to reduce the behaviour. If the results of our brief assessment and the full functional analysis are consistent, then the use of the brief procedure as a cost-effective method will be supported.

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