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.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Using ABA to Manage Lab Animals

I would like to work in a veterinary clinic or a lab to provide care for animals… In order to manage and interact with animals well, I must be skilful at behavioural analytic techniques. ABA can be used to promote desirable behaviour (Desmond & Laule, 2005), handle aggressions (Bloomsmith, Laule, Alford & Thurston, 2005) and reduce self-injurious, abnormal behaviours among animals (Dorey et al., 2009).

Different species need different habitats and have various sizes of social groups. Sometimes, we may not be able to provide them the best environment in lab. Unusual experiment procedures and strange environment might lead to unpleasant feelings or aggression.  Regarding the ethical guidelines, both physical and psychological well-being of laboratory animals should be maintained in a favourable state.  So, we cannot force them to cooperate through any inhuman methods when carrying out daily and research practices. Reinforcement training in ABA can therefore be used to overcome these problems.

There are several rules for using reinforcement: 1 – define the target behaviour, 2 – select the appropriate reinforcers, 3 – make reinforcers immediate and certain, 4 – monitor results.
Let’s take feeding time of chimpanzees as an example:
After observing and recording the frequency of chimpanzee’s behaviours during meal and no-meal times, Bloomsmith et al. (2005) found that dominant male chimpanzees usually display aggression and chasing behaviours when having meals. To reduce these behaviours, we may use the differential reinforcement of low rate (DRL) as it is impossible to eliminate these inherent traits of chimpanzee (aggressive behaviours among dominants). When using DRL, reinforcers will only be provided when the target behaviour occurs at a low rate. Food and compliments can be used as the reinforcers to train the male chimpanzee to sit and remain calm while having meal with others. Take away the food whenever aggression or chasing behaviours occur. Food will only be provided when he is sitting still. When the occurrence of target behaviours during meal times are less than limit, compliment will be given. Implement these procedures daily and consistently, we may see a reduction in aggression during feeding periods.

This exemplifies how I might use applied behavioural analysis to modify undesirable behaviours in chimpanzees. I hope I can employ various behavior analytic techniques to help improve the well-being of captive animals in the future.

Hau Wong (Blog 4)


Bloomsmith, M. A., Laule, G. E., Alford, P. L., & Thurston, R. H. (1994). Using training to moderate chimpanzee aggression during feeding. Zoo Biology, 13(6), 557-566.

Desmond, T., & Laule, G. (1994). Use of positive reinforcement training in the management of species for reproduction. Zoo Biology, 13(5), 471-477.

Dorey, N. R., Rosales‐Ruiz, J., Smith, R., Lovelace, B., & Roane, H. (2009). Functional analysis and treatment of self-injury in a captive olive baboon. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 42(4), 785-794.

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