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.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Although I don’t intend to graduate and become a spokesperson on the importance of hygiene, I do believe and try to encourage others on a daily basis  to take care of their hygiene. Since I want to pursue a career in health-care (Neuroscience) being aware of tactics to ensure people are more conscious about their behavior and acted in pro-social and healthy ways would definitely be useful.  

Behavioural analysis is essentially about identifying problematic behaviours and addressing them . Using the principles of operant conditioning (Skinner,1948) if a behaviour is desired but not displayed frequently it may be increased through positive reinforcement while undesirable behaviours may be reduced through punishment and negative reinforcement.
These principles can be used in everyday life and can elicit positive change in populations. 

By this notion, people can be ‘guided’ to behave in a particular way as long as there is a form of incentive (positive reinforcement) or to avoid averse feelings/consequences (negative reinforcement).   DeVries at al (1991) created  a performance feedback procedure to increase glove wearing by nurses in a hospital emergency room in situations in which contact with bodily fluids were highly likely. They reported that observations made prior to (baseline) and during feedback indicated a substantial increase in glove wearing (ranged from 22% to 49% across subjects).  These results highlight the effectiveness of the performance feedback as a positive reinforce increasing the likelihood of glove wearing. More importantly, these results have implication in preventing serious diseases that could be transmitted through bodily fluid such as auto-immune disease (AIDs). DeVries et al’s study is revolutionary in recognizing the power of behavioural analysis. The ability to alter people’s behaviour in such an important area such health care has tremendous significance. By simply improving glove wearing in nurses, you are not only protecting them from contracting AIDs but reducing the risks of AIDs in a population.

Similarly, there are many other every day examples where behavioral analysis can be  used to ensure the health and hygiene (among many other things). For example, parents can ensure their children wash their hands before dinner or they get no food(negative reinforcement),  citizens can be fined for littering(punishment) and even risky sexual behavior can be reduced through increase awareness of the negative consequences such as unwanted pregnancies and STDs (negative reinforcement).

So next time, your housemate refuses to clean the dishes or you see someone litter, remember the power of Behavioural Analysis. Don’t just tell them, MAKE them do it.


DeVries, J. E., Burnette, M.M., & Redmon, W.K. (1991). Aids prevention: Improving nurses’ compliance with glove wearing through performance feedback, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 24, 705-711.

Skinner, B. F. (1948). Superstition' in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 168-172.

Tashya De Silva

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