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 5, 2014

No Longer Desperate Housewives

Because at the moment I have no idea what career path I want to pursue, this has been a difficult assignment to complete. However, I do know I desperately want a happy and well-adjusted family, and I think applied behavioural analysis can help me with that.

Picture the scene; I’m at home all day looking after my children and my husband returns home from work. I’ve cooked the family a lovely meal and when they’ve finished, they all scarper off, leaving me to clean up the mess. Like I haven’t done enough cleaning throughout the day!

To put right this unfair situation I could use positive reinforcement. If my children put their dishes in the dishwasher and tidy up the kitchen I could reward them by letting them watch TV. So here, the target behaviour is getting my children to clean up after dinner and the positive reinforcement is allowing them to watch television. I will increase the power of this reinforcement by letting them watch TV as soon as they have finished cleaning up and only allow it if they have in fact completed the task. If they refuse, I wouldn’t let them watch TV. This idea of positive reinforcement has been supported by numerous empirical studies (Patterson, 1982; Skinner, 1953).

Moving on to my husband, perhaps he has a habit of going to the pub after work with his buddies and returning home late. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have any fun but if it were happening nearly every day, it would be a behaviour I’d want to change. So, with this scenario, I could employ differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviour (DRI); reducing the frequency of him staying out late with his friends and increasing the frequency in which he returns home at a suitable hour to spend good quality time with his family. If I shout at him when he gets back as well as stop leaving leftovers and staying up waiting for him, I can lessen the amount of times he goes out drinking after work. If he is met with these undesirable consequences when he returns, the idea of going out all the time will no longer be appealing as he knows he will have to face these penalties when he gets back. The reinforcement of having a good time with his friends will now be weakened by the unpleasant experience when he returns. However, when he does come back at a reasonable time and bonds with the family, I can reinforce this desired behaviour by praising him, cooking his favourite meals and having sex. The idea of DRI has also been proven successful (Deitz & Repp, 1983; Kramer & Rilling, 1970).

So, although being a stay at home mum isn’t my ultimate dream job, I anticipate it’ll happen at some point, and hopefully applied behaviour analysis can help me deal with housewife life!


Deitz, D. E. D., & Repp, A. C. (1983). Reducing behavior through reinforcement. Exceptional Education Quarterly, 3, 34-46.

Kramer, T. J., & Rilling, M. (1970). Differential reinforcement of low rates: A selective critique. Psychological Bulletin, 74, 225-254.

Patterson, G. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia.

Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: MacMillan.

Zara Heal (Blog 4)

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