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[Audio] The 'ABCs' of Behavior Analysis Put Emphasis on Simplicity

Pakornkrit Khantaprab, 123rf Stock Photo

Antecedent behavior consequences (or the ABCs) of behavior analysis take a simple approach to understanding human behavior, unlike more complicated models seen in cognitive psychology. On Sounds Good, Tracy Ross speaks with Murray State psychology professor Dr. Michael Bordieri about methods of incentivizing behavior in ways that help us all.

The A is for 'antecedent' an awareness of environment, what happens before a behavior. the B is for 'behavior' the action itself, and C is for 'consequence' what comes after. Bordieri says technology and basic signs to predict and influence human behavior can help make the world a better place. 

He uses an example that pet owners might understand: trying to get his dog to stop jumping up on the bed. If he gets a treat and calls out her name when she's on the bed, she gets off the bed and gets the treat. The antecedent is that she's a bit hungry, the behavior is jumping off the bed, the consequence is getting a treat, he says. It's the simple idea of reinforcing or giving positive things after a desirable behavior. Bordieri says it takes an understanding of the environment to increase the behaviors we want and decrease the behaviors we don't want. This method has some controversy regarding intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Some people see working for the reward as a negative, and this can be true in limited circumstances, he says. If a student works hard in school they get a good grade. As long as the ground rules are laid out effectively in the beginning, you can be successful. Another example is taking a child to the store. If you explain to your child on the way to the store that if they are quiet and don't touch anything they can pick out something they like in the end, which can have a more desirable outcome than a child screaming and crying in the store and you rushing to give them something, which can teach them that yelling is the way to get candy. On this thought, Bordieri says perhaps he's inadvertently teaching his dog to jump on the bed to get treats.

In modifying behavior, a factor to consider, Bordieri says, is that we're always getting consequences in our environment. He says we're always learning. You don't necessarily have to try to teach or give reinforcers because they natural occur. He says the ABC approach isn't manipulating or taking away choice, but rather bringing together a scientific process that's already in the world all the time.

In schools, a behavior analytic instruction technique for struggling kids is instead of reading whole books or giving extended instructions, really short simple instructions have been found to be more successful. A high repetition, high energy approach has shown enormous results in gains in academics, self-esteem and relationships, he says.

When safety belt laws first came out in the 1970s, how did they get people to start using them? He says it turns out the "click it or ticket" approach may not be the best way. Instead of "You're going to get in trouble if you don't do it," change the message to "Hey, we care about you. Buckle up." Bordieri says it turns out that a caring message gets more people buckling up and less people flipping you off.

Encouraging people to recycle can be tricky because the act of doing so usually requires extra effort. One of the ways to improve recycling is by removing barriers. Make it easier to recycle than not. He says in some countries recycling is free and if you have trash you have to pay more. This is the opposite in many communities in the United States.

Incentivizing behavior in ways that help us all can sometimes be a tricky thing to think about Bordieri says. Objectives and resources need to be made clear. Once we have a way of thinking where we can look at the world and think about the behaviors we want to see and how can we make them more likely to occur, we can be more successful than trying to blame the person, understand their brain and make the problem more complicated than it seems. Just like your dog, if you want your pet to do things finding ways to give incentives can make it happen.

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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