The Great Debate: Practical Functional Assessment vs Traditional FA

Join us for another Megan’s Musings episode! This time we are discussing the Great Debate: PFA and Traditional FA. Behavior Analysts have incredible behavior change technology at their fingertips for drastically improving the quality of lives of numerous individuals who engage in challenging behavior that interferes with learning and may be harmful to themselves or others. Is the technology that was developed in the 80s and heavily researched since then sufficient for producing these changes or should we be advancing and progressive as a field and embrace the research from Dr. Hanley on Practical Functional Assessment? Dr. Miller and Joe discuss the two sides of this discussion and share their viewpoints. 

Before any good debate on a topic can occur, listeners must understand where the debate stems from so this episode opens with a quick overview of the historical significance of Functional Analysis. Then we dive right in to the two sides of the debate: Traditional Functional Analysis vs Practical Functional Assessment. The episode concludes by discussing who ultimately “wins” the debate. 

Resources to Learn More:

Tables Analyzing Research Articles from Fisher and Greer

#dobetter Webinar on Challenging Behavior – Look at the September 2018 Row

Behavioral Observations Podcast with Dr. Hanley Session 1 Functional Assessment

BOP with Dr. Hanley Session 7 Function Based Treatment

BOP with Dr. Hanley Session 20 Q and A

BOP with Dr. Hanley Session 94 Practical Functional Assessment

BOP with Dr. Fisher Session 45 Best Practices Functional Analysis

Dr. Hanley’s Website on PFA

Direct Links to Research from Dr. Hanley’s Lab

Articles Referenced:

Ayllon, T., & Michael, J. (1959). THE PSYCHIATRIC NURSE AS A BEHAVIORAL ENGINEER 1. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 2(4), 323-334.

Carr, E. G., Newsom, C. D., & Binkoff, J. A. (1976). Stimulus control of self-destructive behavior in a psychotic child. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 4(2), 139-153.

Fisher, W. W., Greer, B. D., Romani, P. W., Zangrillo, A. N., & Owen, T. M. (2016). Comparisons of synthesized and individual reinforcement contingencies during functional analysis. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 49(3), 596-616.

Greer, B. D., Mitteer, D. R., Briggs, A. M., Fisher, W. W., & Sodawasser, A. J. (2019). Comparisons of standardized and interview‐informed synthesized reinforcement contingencies relative to functional analysis. Journal of applied behavior analysis.

Hanley, G. P., Jin, C. S., Vanselow, N. R., & Hanratty, L. A. (2014). Producing meaningful improvements in problem behavior of children with autism via synthesized analyses and treatments. JABA, 47, 16-36.

Iwata, B. A., Dorsey, M. F., Slifer, K. J., Bauman, K. E., & Richman, G. S. (1982). Toward a functional analysis of self-injury. Analysis and intervention in developmental disabilities, 2(1), 3-20.

Jessel, J., Hanley, G. P., & Ghaemmaghami, M. (2016). Interview-informed synthesized contingency analyses: Thirty replications and reanalysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 49, 576–595.

Lovaas, O. I., Freitag, G., Gold, V. J., & Kassorla, I. C. (1965). Experimental studies in childhood schizophrenia: Analysis of self-destructive behavior. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 2(1), 67-84.

Slaton, J. D., Hanley, G. P. & Raftery, K. J. (2017). Interview-informed functional analyses: A comparison of synthesized and isolated components. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 50, 252–277.


  1. “I don’t see this as an academic pursuit of effective intervention for our learners. I see it as, Hey, I’ve done a lot of research in this area, and your research is now contradicting my research, and I don’t like it”.