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, March 4, 2014

Managing to get by...

Applied Behavioural analysis (ABA) is an area in Psychology which has evolved from the work of B.F. Skinner and can be explained well by Thorndike’s ‘Law of Effect’ which states that behaviours that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation, and behaviours that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to occur again in that situation (Thorndike, 1927).  The aims of ABA are to alter and change behavioural problems through focusing on looking at the way in which environmental events preceding the undesirable behaviour (antecedents) and those following the behaviour (consequences) relate to the behaviour itself. A behaviour analyst will try to identify along with a client, behavioural problems which need to be reduced, and also may look for desirable behaviours which could be increased. They will then look at the relation the target behaviour has with antecedents and consequences, i.e. what causes this behaviour and what are the results of it. Once this is done, they will work with the client to alter this relationship in a way that helps decrease the frequency (for undesirable behaviours) or increase the frequency (for desirable behaviours) of the target behaviour occurring.

When looking in terms of the workplace, imagine yourself to be a manager of a small team. In team meetings, one particular member keeps on interrupting others when they are trying to discuss points but at the same time does bring up some good ideas themselves. Clearly, they are showing an aversive and undesirable behaviour which is the fact that they talk over other team members. For the next couple of meetings you therefore need to observe this behaviour and try and make note of the antecedents and consequences of the behaviour and how often it is occurring. After doing so, you realise they interject whenever they hear an opinion they disagree with, and following their behaviour, the consequential action is that they are listened to by everyone and the other persons point remains unheard. So, as a result, you decide you need to alter this by changing the consequential action which is positively reinforcing their behaviour. To do this you decide to take away attention from them when they begin this behaviour by immediately interrupting them to ask the other person to continue with their original point. This will clearly demonstrate you disapprove of their behaviour. It is important to do this immediately as this makes the reinforcement more likely to work due to the fact that with a delay, other behaviour occurs which could then instead be reinforced. To ensure this has worked, you need to have an idea of how often the behaviour occurred in meetings before you started altering the consequence and compare this to after you have begun using it for a while. This can then be measured simply by plotting a frequency graph. In addition, as this person was making good points, you would like to encourage this behaviour. To do this, you could alter the antecedent of this by asking them of their opinion after other team members have had their own ideas heard. By then following this up with praise, you will be able to alter their behaviour so that they will wait for you to ask before interrupting others to make their own point heard.


George Coe


Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms, an experimental analysis.

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


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