What Is Functional Analysis?

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  • Written By: Helen Akers
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2019
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Functional analysis is loosely based upon the idea of cause and effect, and is used in specific forms in a number of fields. The technique is used by psychologists to analyze undesirable behavior and find solutions to prevent it. Business leaders sometimes group the activities of several workers and departments into functions that contribute to a strategic objective. Mathematicians apply this type of analysis to approximate infinite dimensions using nonlinear equations.

In a behavioral functional analysis, several key variables are identified as potential influences over certain outcomes. Most often, an analysis will include both dependent and independent variables that are tested among two separate groups. The independent variables usually vary between the two groups, to help determine whether the dependent variable has a direct impact on the behavioral outcomes. Dependent variables may be tested to see if they produce a desirable outcome or lead to a negative result.

Different types of reinforcement may be used in a behavioral functional analysis study. Positive and negative reinforcement variables, such as rewards and punishments, are often employed to see if they are sufficient to change the test subjects' behavior. For example, on occasion, a "time out" punishment may not cause a child to stop misbehaving. On the other hand, a reward that consists of peer recognition may be enough for a sales representative to increase his monthly sales volume.


Corporations and medium-sized businesses might use functional analysis applications to determine what work activities and tasks help accomplish goals. Functions and activities are typically identified as operational, managerial, strategic, and administrative. During the analysis process, business leaders identify whether certain work tasks can be classified as belonging to one or more of these groups. The process helps managers pinpoint functions that may be contributing to the success of the company or detracting from it.

As functions are identified, the activities of workers who contribute to these functions are also examined. The average time that workers spend on certain job tasks is analyzed and results are grouped into percentages. Issues with work tasks and process flows might be pinpointed during the analysis process. Companies usually scrutinize the methods by which job tasks are performed, as well as the equipment that is being used.

Nonlinear functional analysis is a tool used in advanced math courses to measure infinite space dimensions. The equations for this type of mathematical analysis are typically used in quantum physics. One of the main purposes of the analysis is to help determine probability and how variables affect the boundaries of spaces. In mathematical theory, functions explain why certain spaces begin and end at specific points.


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