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

ABA & Advertising

I am pursuing a career in advertising, which in its very nature requires analyzing behaviour in order to change it to your advantage, most likely for increased sales.

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is the process of systematically applying learning-theory-based interventions to improve behaviours to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions are responsible for the behaviour improvement (Baer, Wolf & Risley, 1968). ABA is useful when we want to increase desired behaviours or decrease inappropriate behaviours. For example, a positive reinforcer is an event in which something is added following a behaviour, making the behaviour more likely to be repeated. ABA is often used to tackle disorders such as autism, producing improvements in communication, social relationships, play, self-care, school and employment.

If we simplify the reasons why people buy products that are advertised, it can be reduced down to positive reinforcement.

Firstly, say that the target behaviour is that we want to increase the sales of a kitchen surface cleaner called ‘Rapidclean’ that is advertised as being particularly fast-working. People’s current very dirty kitchen surfaces act as the antecedents in this process (the ‘A’ part of the process). Martinko, White and Hassell (1989) stated that antecedents refer to a stimulus condition that sets the occasion for behaviour to occur. So in this case, the dirty kitchen acts as a ‘prompt’ to buy something to clean it with. Ralis and O'Brien (1987) demonstrated the positive effects of prompts alone for suggestive selling.

Secondly, we must select the appropriate reinforcers. In order for the behaviour (the ‘B’ part of the process) of buying ‘Rapidclean’ to increase, the behaviour might be positively reinforced (having positive consequences).

Thirdly, reinforcers should be immediate and certain. So to positively reinforce the purchase of a product such as ‘Rapidclean’, the consequence of buying it (the ‘C’ part of the process - a sparkly clean kitchen) must ideally be instant and positive. A product that cleans thoroughly straight away is more likely to be purchased again.

Finally, it is important to monitor the sales results to establish whether the reinforcers have worked to increase buying behaviour. Sales figures would be analysed during a set period during which the advertising campaign has been implemented.


Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). SOME CURRENT DIMENSIONS OF APPLIED BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS1. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 1(1), 91-97.

Martinko, M. J., White, J. D., & Hassell, B. (1989). An operant analysis of prompting in a sales environment. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 10(1), 93-107.

Ralis, M. T., & O'Brien, R. M. (1987). Prompts, goal setting and feedback to increase suggestive selling. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 8(1), 5-18.

Gemma Waters - Blog 4 

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