by Michael D. Anestis, M.S.
When Joye and I launched PBB in early 2009, writing posts was an entirely different experience. Sure, we were active graduate students, seeing clients, teaching undergraduates, and publishing research, but we had time to sit down and write carefully considered posts on an almost daily basis. Flashforward to late 2010 and life is entirely different. In the past week, Joye defended her dissertation prospectus and I defended my dissertation. I'm in the midst of my internship year and Joye is in the midst of applying for hers. We're both juggling a number of manuscripts for publication and, just for fun, I've got a grant application in the works and a number of upcoming talks under preparation. Hanging out with us through all of this is our seven-month-old. So...free time...not all that common. Anyway, as always, we're constantly thinking about PBB, developing plans for its future, and hoping to return to at least a somewhat regular schedule of posting. We'll see how things develop over time. In the meantime, I'll enjoy sneaking in a post tonight.
Today, I'd like to discuss a study just published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology by Michelle Wedig and Matt Nock of Harvard University. In the study, the authors discussed the development of a new scale: the Functional Assessment of Maladaptive Behaviors (FAMB). Before I explain their general findings, I want to point you towards two earlier PBB articles that are directly related to the topic. The first discusses the functional model of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and the second discusses the Drinking Motives Questionnaire. In each article, the basic point is that individuals who engage in the same behavior do not always do so for the same reason and the reason we engage in a behavior is an important point to consider.
The models discussed in those two articles is identical to the one that Wedig and Nock (2010) proposed in their article. In each case, the idea is that individuals engage in maladaptive behaviors for one of four reasons:
1. Intrapersonal negative reinforcement - to diminish an unwanted internal state (e.g., negative emotions)
2. Intrapersonal positive reinforcement - to cause or increase the strength of a desired internal state (e.g., positive emotions)
3. Social negative reinforcement - to avoid interactions with others or to escape their demands
4. Social positive reinforcement - to get attention from or convey information to others
Wedig and Nock (2010) tested this same model on binge eating and purging and found that, just as was the case with NSSI and drinking in the studies we discussed earlier on PBB, these four functions properly fit the reasons individuals binge eat and purge. The function most frequently endorsed for binge eating was intrapersonal negative reinforcement, meaning that when individuals binge eat, the most likely reason is to regulate negative emotions. Automatic positive reinforcement was the second most frequently endorsed reason for binge eating, followed by social negative reinforcement and social positive reinforcement. The same pattern of results was found for purging.
The point of Wedig and Nock's (2010) paper was not simply to consider the functional model with respect to binge eating and purging though. Rather, their goal was to develop a measure that would enable researchers and clinicians to assess the functions of any problematic behavior. In other words, they wanted to provide a well-validated way to determine why an individual does what he or she does. A better understanding of the most common reasons for engaging in particular behaviors can help us avoid perpetuating myths (e.g., when individuals self-injure they typically do so to manipulate others). Additionally, by determining if particular motives are associated with a more severe course, a better response to particular treatments, etc..., we can optimize our interventions, ensuring that we provide the best possible care for specific individuals.
My question for you is whether you think there are additional behaviors that are well suited for the FAMB other than drinking, NSSI, and binge eating and purging. Are there behaviors you think are not well suited for this measure? Do you know of research supporting your positions?
If you would like to learn more about this or other topics discussed on PBB, please consult our online store for scientifically-based psychological resources.