Behavioural observation methods

These describe methods for the immediate recording of events, usually either recording the number of times an event occurs (leading to frequency counts), or immediately coding the observed event by using a set of prescribed event categories that exhaustively and mutually exclusively cover all anticipated possibilities. The duration of an event may be of interest, or the time interval between events. As an example of event coding, any patient in a ward setting may be coded as either standing, sitting, lying, walking, or running, with supplementary codes then describing, for example, either the form of social interaction or the form of activity being concurrently undertaken.

When events of clinical interest are very complex, it may take too long to code each event fully, so then only, say, every fifth or tenth event is coded in detail—this is termed 'event sampling'. When events are happening very rapidly, or if they tend to happen at about the same rate during the day, it is time-wasting to observe all the time, so observations may then be made only every 5 or 10 min—this is termed 'time sampling'.

The term 'functional analysis' generally refers to attempts to explain and predict the functions of a phenomenon by examining any contributory relationships. Clinically, this term usually describes a special variant of behavioural observation methods, when the observation of an individual's behaviour, which is of clinical significance, is linked to the observation of those events in the immediate clinical environment that directly preceded, were concurrently associated with, and followed, the target behaviour, with the aim of uncovering any relationship between them. This sequence of antecedent environmental events, target behaviour and concurrent events, and consequent environmental events, is often called an ABC analysis. For example, incidents of aggression by a particular client in a day-setting may be a function of which other clients are near him or talking to him, so that a record of their presence or absence would be important. While a functional analysis strictly implies no particular model of behaviour, historically there has been a close association between functional and behavioural analysis.

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