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.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

ABA on Children with Eating Problems

It is a pervasive phenomenon now in China that a lot of parents have difficulties making their little children eat during meal time. These children refuse to eat proper meals and like having snacks instead, which leads to a lack of nutrition. I would like to work with children with eating problems after I graduate. The use of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) will help me to influence children's eating behaviour.

The goal of ABA is simply to change the frequency of a target behaviour, but how? Thorndike’s Law of Effect (1927) suggests that the probability of a behaviour occurring is a function of the consequences that behaviour has had, in that situation, in the past. This draws our attention to the important role that environmental consequences play in behaviour. Therefore we can use reinforcement which provides consequences for a behaviour to increase or decrease the frequency of that behaviour. 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.

In the case I stated at the beginning, the target behaviour would be not eating proper meals. Then I need to identify functional relations between the target behaviour and its antecedents and consequences.      I could ask the parents to give a detailed description about what happened before, during and after the target behaviour. The child could be asked why he dislikes proper meals and prefers snacks. When the child does eat proper meals, he should be observed for a certain period and each time he eats should be recorded. I can draw a frequency graph to show how many times he eats proper meals. To increase the frequency of eating proper meals, I can use positive reinforcement,  when a favourable outcome follows eating behaviour (Pierce & Cheney, 2013). For example I can praise him or give him a chocolate every time he eats proper meal. The intervention should occur quickly after the behaviour because the closer the target behaviour is followed by the reinforcer, the more likely the reinforcer will be effective. To monitor results of the intervention, the graphs of the frequency of the behaviour before and after the intervention can be compared. If the frequency of eating proper meals increases, the intervention is proved to be effective.

Positive reinforcement has been proved to be a core principle to influence target behaviour by a lot of Studies. For example, Marlowe, Festinger, Dugosh, Arabia, and Kirby's (2008) study found that that using positive reinforcement methods can significantly reduce drug dependency in inmates.


Marlowe, D. B., Festinger, D. S., Dugosh, K. L., Arabia, P., & Kirby, K. C. 2008. An effectiveness trial of contingency management in a felony preadjudication drug court. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 41, 565-577.

Pierce, W. D., & Cheney, C. D. (2013). Behavior analysis and learning. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Thorndike, E. L. (1927). The law of effect. The American Journal of Psychology39,212-222.

 Yinan Wang
(Blog 4)


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