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.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Manipulating Coworkers

I will be honest, I have no clue what I will be doing after I graduate from university. I have many plans, and many ideas of what my potential careers may entail, but they are all widely different. I want to help people, but I don’t know if that will be through therapy, charity work, or through education of topics which I hold dear to my heart. However, it is most certainly sure that I will be working with other people, and so to get what I may want, in an albeit manipulative manner, I could use behaviour analysis. This would be the application of Thorndike's (1927) Law of effect, that behaviour is a function of its consequences.

So what is it, and what does it entail? Behaviour analysis is attempting to change maladaptive behaviours by altering the consequences of such behaviour. It focuses on either increasing or decreasing behaviour using reinforcement (to increase behaviour) or punishment (to decrease behaviour). Now, seeing that I will most likely working with adults, as I have had enough of children from babysitting as a teenager, punishment is out of the window. I cannot simply put an adult in the corner of a room, and tell them to think about what they have done.

Reinforcement of behaviour can come in two different ways: Positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. The first focuses on altering behaviour by adding a consequence, and the latter by removing a consequence. Although research has suggested that a mixture of both negative and positive reinforcement leads to the highest speed of acquisition, maximum possible performance and delayed extinction (Ilango, Wetzel, Scheich & Ohl, 2010), negative reinforcement can be difficult to set up so I would most likely be sticking to positive reinforcement.

So what behaviour would I like to increase in my co-workers? And how should I go about it? Let’s say I want to increase the number of times my co-worker brings me coffee in the mornings (being a coffee lover, this would be the best favour I could receive). The following would be the methodology I would use (Wizard, 1972):

  1. Target Behaviour – have my co-worker give me coffee in the mornings
  2. Reinforcers of the behaviour – offer my co-worker some baked goods upon receiving the coffee. Additionally, I would most likely say thank you and be friendly with them, so then the encounter will be associated with a positive experience.
  3. Immediacy – I will immediately offer them a baked good, as well as being friendly to them. This will mean that they will get an immediate reward for their behaviour.
  4. Consistency – With each time, the reinforcer will be the same. Not only because I want to keep the behaviour from occurring, but because I will feel rude if I didn’t reciprocate my behaviour.
  5. Monitor Results – This shouldn’t be too difficult to do, however, I would keep it somewhere a bit secretive because it would seem a bit weird to keep a tally of someone’s behaviours.

 Overall, behaviour analysis could be used to alter your co-workers behaviours in the workplace. And if this specific intervention works, then I will be highly caffeinated during my workshift.


Ilango A, Wetzel W, Scheich H, Ohl FW. (2010) The combination of appetitive and aversive reinforcers and the nature of their interaction during auditory learning. Neuroscience, 166, 752-62.

Thorndike, E. L. (1927). The law of effect. The American Journal of Psychology , 39, 212-222.

Wizard, H. (1972). Why manage behaviour? A case for positive reinforcement. Human Resource Management, 11, 15-20.

Ariadna Rodriguez Barclay

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