Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, February 28, 2014

ABA could make ‘Live and Let Dye’ big business!

Since I currently have no career aspirations, I will resort to my 5-year-old self’s fantasy of hairdressing.  Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is based on the principles of behavioural reinforcement, aiming to increase the frequency of good behaviour and decrease the frequency of bad behaviour. As owner of ‘Live and Let Dye Hair Salon’ the main customer behaviour I want to increase (the target behaviour) is visiting the salon. An appropriate method of increasing the target behaviour is through negative reinforcement. For instance by removing split-ends, unwanted frizziness and greys, my service can reward customers by taking away aversive stimuli, thus increasing their salon-visiting behaviours. Additionally these reinforcers occur immediately after visiting the salon which should help strengthen the power of the reinforcement. There is much evidence for the effectiveness of negative reinforcement in the literature. For example, Carr, Newsom & Binkoff (1980) showed that when a child was permitted to leave a situation after emitting a set amount of aggressive responses, they were highly aggressive. So aggressive behaviour was negatively reinforced because it resulted in the child being able to escape the demanding situation.

Providing good customer service by complementing the customer on their new look and providing drinks, magazines and juicy gossip would positively reinforce the target behaviour. The customer receives favourable outcomes from visiting the salon and thus they are more likely to engage in that behaviour. On a more serious note, positive reinforcement has shown to increase target behaviours in those suffering clinical disorders. For example Leitenburg, Agras & Thomson, 1968 showed that sufferers of Anorexia Nervosa who were provided with positive activities contingent on their gradual weight gain responded better to treatment.  Thus there is empirical support for the effect of both positive and negative reinforcement on behaviour change. But what other ABA tools could I use to ensure customers continue to visit my salon? The next example may seem somewhat extravagant.

My customer may come under the illusion that she can treat her hair just as well by herself, this behaviour would reduce the target behaviour and I therefore need to prevent it. I could achieve this by tripling the price of hair dye in all local cosmetic stores (let’s say I have contacts) making non-salon methods of hair treatment unpleasant and aversive. Customers who engaged in non-salon behaviours would be punished because of the greater expense. This type of punishment is characteristic of response cost whereby the low-cost benefit (positive reinforcement) of non-salon treatment (a bad behaviour) is taken away (by increased prices). A cruel but justified means of achieving hair-world domination.

Thus using the power of applied behavioural analysis I can identify the behaviours I want to strengthen, i.e. customers visiting my salon and those I want to weaken, i.e. customers going elsewhere for hair treatment.

Alice Goodman


Carr, E. G., Newsom, C. D., & Binkoff, J. A. (1980). Escape as a factor in the aggressive behavior of two retarded children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 13, 101–117.

Leitenberg, H., Agras, S. W., & Thomson, L. E., (1968). A sequential analysis of the effect of selective positive reinforcement in modifying Anorexia Nervosa.  Behaviour Research & Therapy, 6, 211-218. Pergamon Press. Printed in England

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