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.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Environmental Preservation using Applied Behaviour Analysis.

Applied Behaviour Analysis is based on the behavioural approach adopted by Skinner (e.g., 1938, 1953). It focuses on how environmental events influence behaviour by investigating functional relationships. This is achieved using the ABC model involving antecedents (events occurring before behaviour) and consequences (events occurring after behaviour) in order to understand a person’s learning history and subsequently solve problematic behaviour.

Environmental behaviour analysts believe intervention strategies should be directly applied to behaviour regarding the environment. The majority of interventions such as these are based on the ABC model. The process would begin with defining a specific and observable target behaviour that is to be altered, for example the amount of heating a household uses. In order to create a hypothesis, the functional relationship between the antecedents and consequences surrounding the problematic behaviour are evaluated. This enables an understanding of triggers and reinforcements. In the household heating example, the trigger would be feeling cold prior to turning on or increasing the heating and the consequence would be subsequently feeling warmer.

Through a process of observation and recording of behaviour, the baseline rate is obtained. This can be achieved using continuous recording (recording each occurrence of the target behaviour in a time period) or interval recording (recording each occurrence of the target behaviour in a series of short intervals in a time period).

Next, an intervention is identified that could effectively alter the problematic behaviour so that it is more desirable i.e. increasing environmentally positive behaviours and decreasing environmentally negative behaviours. With regards to environmental preservation, Geller (2010) identified various antecedent interventions: education, messages, demonstrations, goal setting and engineering and design strategies. So, the household owners wishing to reduce their heating usage could receive educational provision informing them of alternative methods of keeping warm and ways to make heating more effective such as insulating the house. Geller (2010) also identified factors concerning consequence strategies were also outlined: consequences should be contingent with the target behaviour, overt behaviours should be targeted and positive reinforcement consequences may be more beneficial. An example of an outcome-contingent consequence that effectively increased the frequency of environment-protective behaviour was receiving two dollars per week for reducing heating 5-10%, with this increasing to five dollars per week for a reduction greater than 20% (Winett & Niezel, 1975). In this way, an effective consequence strategy could be saving money on reducing the amount of heating used.

Comparison of the target behaviour baseline and the rate after the intervention indicates whether or not the method adopted was successful.  A simple or cumulative frequency graph makes this task easier as measurements can be viewed more clearly. If the problematic behaviour has been influenced in a desirable way then the intervention is deemed to be effective. For example, a reduction in heating costs would indicate less heating used and would show that the intervention adopted was successful.


Geller, E. S. (2010). Applied Bahvior Analysis and Social Marketing: An Integration for Environmental Preservation. Journal of Social Issues, 45, 17-36.

Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan.

Winett, R. A., & Nietzel, M. (1975). Behavioral ecology: Contingency management of residential energy use. American Journal of Community Psychology, 3, 123- 133.

Lizzie Hills

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