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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Once uni is all done and dusted I wish to pursue a career in teaching. I feel for the most part it will be incredibly enjoyable but I am well aware that there will always be one or two in the class who are bound to put up a challenge… the question is; how do we get around this? The answer lies with Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) – identifying a behaviour we wish to increase (or decrease), the environmental triggers which provide a reason for this behaviour and coming up with a solution which can be deployed in order to alter such behaviour. Let’s take the example of little Timmy.

Timmy has recently been transferred to this school but has a problem in that he never completes his homework. It’s not that Timmy doesn’t understand the work and so can’t complete it, it’s actually due to the fact that at his previous school, Timmy was given special one-to-one help during class time to finish the work and he loves the fact that he gets to miss lessons. At a primary school you may feel that this isn’t too detrimental to their learning, but the importance of interacting in a class will be vital for the future. At the same time it doesn’t seem fair for the other students if it is seen that Timmy is given special treatment for his inability to finish his own work.

So we know the following things:

1) Timmy doesn’t complete his homework.
2) Timmy gets taken out of class and given one-to-one help with it.

A simple solution to changing this behaviour would be to enforce a punisher and change when the help Timmy receives takes place. Rather than during class time, why not during his break or lunch period? By taking away Timmy’s own free time where he would usually be running around, kicking a ball with his friends or whatever, he is now sat inside a classroom with just a teacher for company. A study conducted by Sulzbacher and Houser (1968) found that by reducing the amount of break time a child had resulted in their identified target behaviour being reduced. As long as this remained consistent, I am sure that within a short amount of time Timmy would no longer find himself stuck inside all day for he will be completing his homework before coming into school. Such a punisher draws upon the idea of response cost; you pay the price for behaving in a particular way, in this case you lose out on your free time by not completing your homework. This is an extremely successful method as Kazdin (1972) discusses in his meta-analysis of response cost studies.

Kazdin, A. (1972). Response cost: The removal of conditioned reinforcers for therapeutic change. Behavior Therapy, 3, 533-546.

Sulzbacher,S., & Houser, J. (1968). A tactic to eliminate disruptive behaviours in the classroom: Group contingent consequences. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 73, 88-90.

Jamie Hart

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