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, February 28, 2014

Confessions of A Hypothetical Housewife

Whilst my goal in life is not to label myself as being a “housewife”, I will undoubtedly come to experience many of the aspects of the “stay-at-home mum” stereotype in the future. For example, getting married, having children and maintaining a comfortable and clean home. However, as many televisions programs highlight, such as Super Nanny, Desperate Housewives, and Outnumbered (to name a few), the role can often come with its difficulties. Exaggerated images of reckless children, spaghetti-spattered kitchens and frequently absent husbands come to mind.
But never fear, Applied Behaviour Analysis is here!

Applied Behaviour Analysis aims to change people’s behaviour by altering the frequency of an occurring behaviour and is based upon the principles of Skinner’s operant conditioning (Skinner, 1963), whereby if behaviour is reinforced the likelihood of it occurring again increases and if behaviour is punished the likelihood of it occurring decreases. It analyses relationship between a behaviour and the environmental events that before behaviour, called antecedents, and the environmental events that occur after behaviour, called consequences.

In the life of a housewife, one situation that I can envision frustrating me would be my children not helping out around the house as they feel “Super Mum” can do it all. Well, with behavioural analysis, that would change. Firstly, I would have to identify the behaviour I want to change, which in this case would specifically be my children not putting their plates away after dinner. In order to change this, I would need an intervention that motivates them to put their plates away. An example of this intervention would be to introduce a reward as reinforcement, such as allowing them to have a chocolate after they have put the dishes away. This hopefully would be enough for my children to understand that putting plates away equals receiving a reward. This use of rewards to reinforce behaviour has been shown to be effective by Roberts and Fanurik (1986), who found that children given reward coupons were more likely to increase their use of seat belts.

As for my imaginary husband, let’s say he’s very dedicated to his work but needs to spend more time with his family. How do I encourage him to do so? Well, because I would have been moaning at him for being at work too much, not only would this aggravate him, it just wouldn’t help encourage him to come home earlier. So in order to make being at home more enjoyable for him, I would use differential reinforcement, which combines the techniques of extinction and reinforcement (Kramer & Rilling, 1970). I would stop moaning at my husband (which is the extinction of the consequences of his behaviour) and when he is at home, I would make the time special by encouraging family activities (hence positively reinforcing the desired behaviour). Therefore, this technique (if carried out properly) should induce my hypothetical husband to spend less time at work and encourage him to spend more time at home, thus reducing how often his “staying at work” behaviour occurs.

So ladies, if you ever get to that point in your future where your kids are driving you crazy and your husband never seems to be around, look no further than Applied Behaviour Analysis!

Because using Applied Behaviour Analysis means “Happy Families”!  

By Daniela Mackie 


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

Roberts, M. C., & Fanurik, D. (1986). Rewarding elementary schoolchildren for their use of safety belts. Health Psychology, 5, 185-196.

Skinner, B. F. (1963). Operant behavior. American Psychologist, 18, 503.

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