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 6, 2014

The Use of Reprimands and Praise

Applied behavioural analysis (ABA) is a set of techniques used to modify behavioural problems. When considering problems from an ABA perspective, these problem behaviours can be grouped into two categories; those that occur too frequently, and those that do not occur often enough! ABA uses the application of operant and classical conditioning to increase or decrease these behaviours to a more optimum level.

For my future career path I am going to be a consulting detective for Scotland Yard. However, all great detectives need a partner (we’ll call them Watson for conveniences sake), to watch their back and to bounce ideas off of. Unfortunately, being the eccentric genius that I am having any person around for any great period of time is going to come with nuances. They are going to need some training. ABA is exactly the way to do this, to wean them of their annoying traits without their explicit knowledge that it is happening.

When working cases it may be that Watson gets too emotionally involved. This is an issue when doing detective work as it clouds the mind. Details may be missed, or not examined fully or objectively and it just generally hinders the detecting process. One ABA technique that could be used to address this is reprimanding. In APA reprimanding is reducing the frequency of target behaviour by making disapproval contingent on the target behaviour. For instance, if Watson says “You shouldn’t question them so hard. They have just lost their father” but this line of questioning is necessary for all the facts it is necessary to reprimand him. This reprimand only has to be a few words. It could take on the form of sarcasm (“Of course, I should be questioning the chair”), a rhetorical question (“Isn’t catching a killer more important than preserving feelings?”) or corrective feedback (“don’t be ridiculous”). The use of reprimands has been shown to increase on-task behaviour in schools and to raise the levels of academic performance (Acker and O’Leary 1987) so this would hopefully decrease the frequency of such outbursts when trying to solve these cases.

However, any partner will also have some good habits and these, we will be wanting to reinforce. For instance when my partner provides some useful information from their specific skill set I am unaware of. One technique useful for increasing the frequency of behaviours is reinforcement. We can do this using reinforcers (events which, when made contingent on a behaviour increase or maintain the frequency of that behaviour. I would do this through use of positive reinforcement; following such events with a favourable outcome, making it more likely to occur in the future. Such useful outbursts of specialist knowledge could thus be followed with a reward such as a compliment “I appreciate you” or “you are fantastic!”.  Compliments such as these have been shown to be an effective tool in the increase of reinforced behaviours. In another condition of the same study mentioned previously (Acker and O’Leary 1987) praise was shown to increase levels of appropriate behaviour in school-aged children in the classroom.

Alice Owen

Acker, M. M., & O’Leary, S. G. (1987). Effects of reprimands and praise on appropriate behaviour in the classroom. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 5, 549-577.

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