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

Gym time!

Recently, overweight/ obesity have become a major concern in most first world countries.  In order to keep fit, people pay for personal fitness trainers and I can foresee a good development in this job industry.  Personal fitness trainers are responsible to motivate and instruct people to do body exercise and have a healthy way of living.  Then, people have to be disciplined to stay in a perfect body shape and I can use behaviour analysis to increase and decrease the frequency of her behaviour.

Positive reinforcement can be applied to increase the desirable target behaviour: working out in the gym.  Positive reinforcement is first suggested by Skinner (1938) as an important part of operant conditioning, that a person will be likely to increase the behaviour when he/she is positively reinforced (rewarded).  Similarly, Vallerand (1987) found that positive verbal reinforcement produces motivational effects on quality task performance, which subjects showed significant improvement in accuracy and reaction times when they were praised.  Accordingly, every time the subject goes to the gym, he/ she will be verbally praised and will be rewarded a stamp immediately.  If the subject got more than 20 stamps in a month, he/ she will receive a nice present.  The verbal praise and stamp both work as positive reinforcers to increase the frequency of going to the gym, and results will be monitored in a daily basis.

On the contrary, if the subject does not control his/ her diet and keeps overeating, he/ she will be punished.  First, reprimanding will be used by making disapproval continent on the target behaviour.  The subject will be condemned and teased for being fat.  Matz et al. (2002) indicated that adult teasing is one of the factors predicting body image dissatisfaction (BID) among obese people seeking weight lost, that others’ disapproval will affect the self-esteem of oneself.  Second, when reprimanding does not work, response cost will be used, that overeating will cost the subject to pay a price for it.  For instance, the subject will be asked to do more push-ups than usual.  Rogers and Darnely (1997) found that response cost is effective in reducing self harming behaviours in their case report.  Yet, since punishment is aversive, it has to be carefully applied to prevent undesirable emotional reactions caused. 


Matz, P. E., Foster, G. D., Faith, M. S., & Wadden, T. A. (2002). Correlates of body image dissatisfaction among overweight women seeking weight loss. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70, 1040-1044. 

Rogers, P., & Darnley, S. (1997). Self-monitoring, competing response and response cost in the treatment of trichotillomania: A case report. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 25, 281-290.    
Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Vallerand, R. J. (1987). On the motivational effects of positive verbal reinforcement on performance: Toward an inverted-U relationship. Motivation and Emotion, 11, 367-378.

by Wing Shan Jennifer Chan

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