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.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

No negativity allowed on the mat.

When I think of a yoga class, I think of a room filled with sweaty enthusiasts synchronising the flow of their body to the sound of their teachers voice. Although yoga is about the physical, emotional and spiritual journey of the self, it is often difficult to detach the constant comparisons one has against the performance of others in the class. It would be dishonest for me to say that I do not have thoughts such as “why can I not bend that way?” or “why can I not invert as effortlessly?” However, these negative thoughts seem to dissipate immediately after the teacher praises his or her student on their accomplishment in a posture. This is the classic “positive reinforcement” that behavioural psychologists hold so dearly. This blog will focus on this concept, as well as other applied behavior analysis techniques I may (or may not) utilise in my future (part-time) career as a yoga instructor.

As research has informed us, career progression and adaptability is often mediated by the leader’s level of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to understand the emotion of another to mediate their interaction with them (Coetzee et al, 2013; Slovey et al, 1990). Emotional intelligence will be important for me as an instructor as I will be able to indicate when I should give praise, when teaching a class.

Often is the case that in yoga classes I attend, there is always an individual who cannot keep up with the teacher’s instructions. Positive reinforcing comments such as “that is a good effort” or “hold the posture for one breath more, I know you can”, seem to work a charm! These comments remove the barrier of feeling embarrassed which is more likely to occur in a social situation (Tangney et al, 1996). Positive reinforcement through praise will also help to maintain or increase the frequency of effort applied by a student in a yoga class (Hiedenreich et al, 2007). The consequence of increased motivation instilled in my students should serve as a dual effect of positive reinforcement with both me and my students continuing to behave in this manner. Of course, this praise should be given as soon as I notice that the student is performing well as the result I desire of increased motivation may not occur if I allow a time delay.


On the flipside, if I do not utlise my emotional intelligence and instead choose not to praise my students or instead dish out critical comments, the motivation of my students will decrease. This form of punishment will result in my students feeling apprehensive about not correctly executing a posture or not trying hard enough, leading to anxiety In future classes (Hiedenreich et al, 2007). Of course it would be difficult to reinforce every time my student is performing well due to practical reasons (Gray et al, 1987). However, I could monitor the progress of my student’s performance over time to see assess whether they feel more motivated in lessons where they receive praise as opposed to times where they do not.


Coetzee, M., & Harry. N. (2014). Emotional intelligence as a predictor of employees’ career adaptability. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 84, 90 – 97.

Gray, L. N., & Tallman, I. (1987). Theories of Choice: Contingent Reward and Punishment Applications. Social Psychology Quarterly, 50, 16 – 23.

Hiedenreich., B. (2007). An Introduction to Positive Reinforcement and Its Benfits. Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 16, 19 -23.

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9, 185211.

Tangney, T., Millerm R. S., Flicker, F., & Barlow, D. H. (1996). Are Shame, Guilt, and Embarrassment Distinct Emotions? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1256 – 1269.
Nimarta Dugh (Blog 4).

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