list of dissatisfactions in your life
1. Make a list of dissatisfactions in your life. These can be things you do too much of, e.g., drink too
much coffee, or things you do too little of, e.g., exercise, study. Try to think of four or five because some will be more suitable than others.
2. Can you state the problem in terms of your behaviour in certain situations? Take two or three ofthe dissatisfactions noted in 1and write a one paragraph analysis of each, in which your problem is linked to the situations in which it occurs. For example, you might
drink too much coffee because you say “yes” each time someone asks you if you would like a cup. Or, you might do too little study because as soon as you arrive home, you switch on the TV.
3. From your knowledge of operant conditioning, write a behavioural analysis of two ofthe problems noted in 2. Make a special note ofthe events that act as antecedents for your problem behaviour, i.e., trigger it off, and the
consequences that follow. As a result ofthis analysis, you should be able to specify and measure your problem behaviour in terms of its frequency andlor duration. For example, the antecedent to my coffee drinking is someone asking me ifl would like a cup. The consequence is
the pleasant conversation that occurs while we are drinking the coffee. Alternatively, the antecedent to my lack of study is sitting in the TV chair watching TV. The consequence ofTVwatching is the relaxation and enjoyment that is associated with it.
4. At this point, you should be able to specify your problem behaviour as some behaviour-in-a-situation that you wish to increase or decrease. This will be your target behaviour.
5. Your first response might be that giving up coffee drinking will interfere with your social life. Clearly, ifthat is the case, you will not stop drinking coffee. In such cases, it is a good idea to employ an acceptable substitute and focus upon that, e.g.,
join your friend but drink tea or hot water. In the example based upon study, it would be better to deal directly with increasing study hours rather than decreasing TV-watching hours. There is no guarantee that if you give up TVwatching, you will spend the extra time studying, is there?
6. A couple of procedural points. First, because this exercise has to be completed in a relatively short period oftime, you should choose something that occurs several times each day (or that you wish would occur several times each day.) Coffee drinking is a
good example. If it tends to only occur once each day, it should be something that
fluctuates in duration, e.g., practicing the piano.Second, choose something that is not
central to your life and likely to be modified in a relatively short period oftime. Do not
7. Now start taking an actual count ofthe frequency andlor duration of your target behaviour, its antecedents, and its consequences. Do not try any intervention at this point. Observing your behaviour can be reactive. That is, you may observe some change in your usual pattern of behaving. However, such a change will typically be temporary
unless some intervention takes place.This baseline serves three purposes:
a. It helps you to determine if you have a problem.
b. It enables you to ultimately determine the success of your
programme by providing at least, a beforelafter comparison.
c. It allows you to set appropriate goals. To do this for a behaviour that you
wish to increase, you find the average rate or duration of response during the baseline period.
Next, determine the largest number of responses! longest duration for any given day
during the baseline period. The appropriate goal is a response ratelduration higher
than the average and equal to or less than the latter. How would you set a goal for
something that you do too little of? At the same time begin a
graph of your data. Time is on the horizontal axis (days is the most
appropriate unit) and frequency! duration of occurrence on the vertical
axis. Using the baseline data in the graphs below determine appropriate goals for decreasing the number of
cups of coffee consumed each day.
Cups of Coffee
B. At this point we need to start thinking about
environmental planning and behavioural
programming. Let’s begin with environmental planning.
9. A simple application of environmental
programming to our study example might go as follows. Think about your study situation. What do you do there? Do you study? Do you read the
newspaperlbookslmagazines? Do you daydream? If you have a phone on or near your desk, do you chat to acquaintances? If you do anything at
your desk other than study, you should stop doing it. By all means, daydream, but do it somewhere else. Make your desk a pure study
situation. The idea is that if study is all you do at your desk, once you sit down at it, it will cue study behaviour. Try to think about
how you would apply environmental programming to our coffee-drinking example.
10. To employ behavioural programming, you have to choose a
positive reinforcer. If you make this consequent upon the occurrence of your target behaviour, it will increase the rate of your target
behaviour. Having selected a suitable reinforcer, ask yourselfthe following questions:
a. Is it really a positive reinforcer for you?
b. Doyou have control over its occurrence?
c. Is it potent, the bigger, the better!
11. It is important to choose a daily (or even more frequent
12. Now you can draw up a Contingency Contract – a written agreement with yourselfthat states what the target behaviour is and what positive reinforcer you will gain for performing it (or not, as the case may be.) For example, you might reinforce yourself for each extra half an hour of study by buying a lottery ticket. Be creative.
13. Some of you will have arrived at this point wondering why punishment has not been discussed. In most behaviour management programs, it is wise to avoid punishers. After all, ifthe programme is more
aversive than the status quo, one can predict from reinforcement theory that the programme will be dropped.
Following this tutorial, we would like you to put your programme into action. The baseline should be a minimum of one week. The actual intervention should also last at
least one week.
1. Baseline of one week
2. Programme, including daily reinforcers, one week Writing up the Outcomes
The outcomes of your
behaviour management program should be written up as an empirical research report using a single case design. The report should be approximately 1,250 words in length. The title, abstract and references are not included in the
Your report should begin with a brieftheoretical discussion that describes why the problematic behaviour may have arisen in the first place and the principles that you will employ in your behaviour management program. It is important to note that while you may not be able to locate any research on the specific behaviour that you are seeking to modify, you will find theoretical and empirical research on issues such as the use of
reinforcers, contingency contracts, continuous reinforcement strategies, and the modification of antecedents, as strategies for the successful modification of behaviour.
In the case ofthis research report, your research question (hypothesis) will relate to the
expectation that the behaviour will be modified following the implementation ofthe strategies that you discuss as part of your introduction.
The participant in this case is yourself, and, in your method section, you should include a ‘participants’ section, a description ofthe behaviour to be modified, and how yo
u measure this behaviour and a description ofthe type of intervention that you intend implementing. You don’t need to undertake inferential statistical analyses in the present study. It is best if you represent the two stages ofthe study (baseline, intervention) as two separate sections ofthe one figure. This enables a visual comparison to be made
quickly and accurately.
In your discussion, you should consider the implications ofthe results that you obtained in terms ofthe
theoretical principles that you described in your introduction and also the reinforcement properties that were present before the intervention was implemented. You should also recommend any modifications that might be necessary to improve the success ofthe programme o allow it to be generalised to others.
A marking schedule is available in the Learning Guide and also on vUWS for your information.
What can you take away from this practical class?
1. You will have learnt that many so-called problem behaviours can be observed and counted.
Remember this when you become a professional psychologist.
2. You will have enhanced your understanding of both classical and operant
conditioning and how to employ the relevant concepts in understanding behaviour in the ‘real’ world.
3. Counting the frequency orduration of a behaviour provides the viewer (you) with a better understanding ofthe factors that influence our behaviour.
Thoresen, C. E., & Mahoney, M. J. (1974). Behavioral self-control. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Watson, D. L.
Tharp, R. G. (2010). Self-directed behaviour: self-modification for personal adjustment. Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth.
Paul Karoly. In Encyclopedia of Behavior Modification and Cognitive Behavior Therapy, vol. 1: Adult Clinical Applications, (Eds.) Michel
Hersen and Johan Rosqvist.
The following journals carry reports on self-control programmes:
Behaviour Research and Therapy
Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Chance, P. (2009). Learning and Behavior. Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.(Chapters 6,7,8
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