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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Warwick, I'm coming for you.

I don't know what I want to do with my life. What I do know, is that I intend to complete a Master's here next year. So, here's how I plan to achieve Department domination.

Thorndike's Law of Effect contends that behaviour that is immediately followed by positive consequences are likely to be repeated  whereas behaviours immediately followed by a negative consequence are unlikely to be repeated (Thorndike, 1927). Therefore, behaviour change requires two elements: positive reinforcement of desired behaviour, and/or negative reinforcement of undesired behaviour.

Part of the student package is e-mail correspondence with one's supervisors. So one of my supervisors, say, Dr. Watson (as his Project student, I'm privileged enough to call him Derrick) doesn't reply to e-mails. I really need to change this, because my work is suffering. What do I do? Every time he doesn't reply, I enter his office at some ungodly hour, when he has 40 papers to review, 50 statistics exams to mark and 4 meetings in 2 hours. I reason that I simply had to see him, because the e-mail went unanswered and therefore I need to clarify in person. Through the process of negative reinforcement, I was implicitly train Dezza (he's unaware of his nickname) to reply to my e-mails. Stage 1 of departmental domination complete.

Fast forward a term. I need to start my summer Project, and I'm in serious trouble. I have no idea what I'm doing. I turn up to my Project supervisors door (Lis Blagrove, if you're wondering) and ask for help. Being the nice kind of gal she is, she complies. For reinforcement to be effective, the reinforcer needs to occur soon after the (un)desired behaviour. So, immediately after I receive this help, I adorn her with compliments and gifts of gratitude, awe, and some chocolate for good measure. What happens? The next time I ask for help, she's more open to helping me, because I was such a receptive, grateful student last time.

What I haven't factored in, is that I'm intending to use psychological persuasive mechanisms... on seasoned Psychologists. I'll let you know how it goes. If you see Prof. Tresilian ousted from his office as I saunter in with a harem of adoring staff, consider it successful.


Thorndike, E. L. (1927). The law of effect. The American Journal of Psychology.

Laura Cunniffe (Blog 4)

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