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“Why do we do what we do?” : Reframing the functions of behaviour

Author: Le-Anne Jacobs, Provisionally Registered Psychologist

I don’t know about you, but I grew up surrounded by adults who explained challenging behaviours as “naughty”. We have also historically been exposed to professionals and people in the community reporting someone’s behaviour as a characteristic of the person (e.g. part of someone’s personality). This has ultimately sent the message that when there are concerning behaviours, there is something wrong with the person, and they can never change.

Rather than asking “What’s wrong with this person”, a more appropriate question may be, “What is the person getting out of this behaviour?”. When you reframe the question in this way, a behaviour is viewed as serving a function. If you think about it, viewing behaviour as something that serves a “function”, allows us to view behaviour as changeable and as a need that can be met by implementing different strategies.

Before planning for change and seeing behaviour change, we must understand the function of it. Let’s explore some common functions of


As you can see, explanations of behaviour have evolved over time, and behaviour therapists now view behaviour as a function. These explanations have changed the way we view behaviour and ultimately the way we respond to it.

The next time you see someone behaving in a certain way, ask yourself, “I wonder what function that behaviour is serving?”


Howell, D. 2021. Functions of behavior. Retrieved from


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