Behaviour Change

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Shall we up the blinds?"



When I grow up I want to own a casino in Las Vegas.

This casino will be the envy of all other casinos on the strip because it will make a lot of money. “How?” you ask. Through applied behavioural analysis of course! Now some may say this is really awful and that I should be using ABA to help people not to gamble. In the real world I would of course never advocate the use of ABA to increase gambling behaviour. As long as you’re not my flatmate who wants to bet doing the washing-up. This is a purely hypothetical exercise.

The crux of ABA is increasing the frequency of behaviour you want and decreasing that which you do not. For the casino example then I need to increase the frequency of betting in the casino and decrease any behaviour that is not betting. To do so associations need to be instated in the gamblers between positive affect and betting, and reinforcers implemented to modify behaviour. Allow me to paint you a picture of your time in my casino…

You walk through the elaborate double doors on to the casino floor. A hostess approaches you.
“Welcome back Mister Bond, may I say you’re looking very suave today. If you’d like to join us at the third Black Jack table I’ll prepare a drink for you. We’ve had some great wins at that table today sir and that can’t last forever; I hope you get lucky as well!”

The likelihood you’ll gamble today vastly increased with just that short interaction. Naturally you’re inclined to stop off at table three then. Through flattery, reciprocity and scarcity you feel inclined to play; just one hand couldn’t hurt. Taking your seat you’re greeted by the smiling dealer who remarks it is a pleasure to have you at the table today. You’re feeling pretty good. Gambling was definitely a good idea.

The hand is dealt and you receive a comfortable pair of kings. The first of two other patrons at the table strikes out and the second holds a confident silence. The dealer asks for your cards and it becomes apparent you have beaten not only the other shmuck at the table but the dealer as well. Dopamine floods your system and just as you lean back in your chair the hostess appears with your favourite beverage; a vodka martini, shaken. Well, it would be a shame to get up now wouldn’t it? You couldn’t possibly get up to go now with a full glass, a lucky streak in the making and all these lovely smiley people around you who seem to worship your visage.

“Let’s go again” You declare.


It’s three hours later. You’ve lost a lot of money. You made a few gains here and there but it seems every time you got up to leave the incredibly attractive hostess would either start a conversation about how she’s always wanted to see England, hand you another drink or serve another plate of delicious canopies straight to your side of the table. Those few hands you did win earned jubilation and a gentle caress of the shoulder from her. Every time your chips went to the dealer she cooed and encouraged the next hand; “This next one will be the winner!”.

You push yourself up from your chair. There’s no reaction from the hostess this time. She knows your pockets are empty and the treasury certainly won’t let you put this one on the credit card. How did this happen?

Well it goes something like this;
1.       Your behaviour was defined. Putting chips on the table and no leaving until you had none left.
2.       Appropriate reinforcers were picked. Gambling itself brings its own cocktail of reward neurotransmitters but other more natural appetitive reinforcers were in place; booze, fancy food, good looking caressing women and everyone smiling at you for your good (gambling) behaviour.
3.       Power factor. Reinforcers were implemented as soon as behaviour was performed. Win or lose when you put those chips on the table there was a drink placed in your hand or a squeeze of your arm.
4.       Monitor results. You upped your bet just a little bit more after that delicious fresh sushi was delivered to you. Better notify the kitchen to start churning that out pronto!

And so, with my army of pretty men and women at your side day or night on my casino floor I’m pushing you here, nudging you there and always correcting your behaviour to bet, bet, bet!

Persistent Gambling
Dickerson, M., & Adcock, S. (1987). Mood, arousal and cognitions in persistent gambling: Preliminary investigation of a theoretical model. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 3 (1), 3-15.

Food Motivation
Wise, R. A. (2006). Role of brain dopamine in food reward and reinforcement. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 361 (1471), 1149-1158.

Attractive People Motivation
van Leeuwen, M. L., & Neil Macrae, C. (2004). Is beautiful always good? Implicit benefits of facial attractiveness. Social cognition, 22 (6), 637-649.

Alcohol Motivation
Kambouropoulos, N., & Staiger, P. K. (2001). The influence of sensitivity to reward on reactivity to alcoholrelated cues. Addiction, 96 (8), 1175-1185.



James Ulke

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