How to unravel behaviour using Behaviour Analysis

Hi there! So I guess you’re wondering what this blog is about? And what is this “behaviour analysis” thing that you’ve just mentioned? 

My name is Bethany and I’m a girl in my twenties who’s always been a little bit fascinated by human behaviour (aren’t we all people watchers at heart?). On the face of it, it can seem pretty impossible to figure out why we behave in the way that we do. Why does your significant other insist on dominating the conversation with talk about computer games/shopping?  How come the child at a supermarket throws a tantrum when their dad refuses to buy a new brand of sugary treats, but they wouldn’t dare to pull this kind of stunt on their mum? Why does your flatmate never do their fair share of the dishes?

We tend to view behaviour as some kind of mystery which is never to be solved.Or we attribute our behaviour to more internal factors such as our “personality” or the way that our “mind” works. But this way of thinking isn’t the only way to look at behaviour and sometimes it isn’t always the most helpful explanation. For example, if you believe that you are afraid of talking to new people because you have a shy/introverted personality, then the number of options that you have for changing this behaviour (should you want to do so) may seem quite slim. How can you change something that is a part of your very being?

Behaviour Analysis
Well, there is another approach that you could take to help you to realise why we do the things that we do.  This approach is called Behaviour Analysis and since its going to be the topic of focus on this blog I’m going to explain it in a little bit of detail!

Instead of believing that our behaviour is caused by some kind of underlying trait, behaviour analysis takes the viewpoint that the majority of our behaviour is learned and determined through interactions with our environment.

When I was first getting my head around this concept, it helped me to compare behaviour analysis to Darwin’s natural selection theory of evolution. Darwin demonstrated that genetic characteristics are selected or rejected depending on the consequences that they have for a species i.e. did this characteristic improve the animal’s ability to survive and adapt to their environment?

Similarly, behaviour analysis has shown that when we do something, immediately afterwards a consequence will follow (i.e. a change in the world around us). The type of consequence that our behaviour stirs up in that moment will alter the probability of us doing that same behaviour again in the future, under similar circumstances. Behaviour is selected by its past consequences!!!

Let’s break this down into an example (which may or may not be inspired from my own life!). The reason as to why your partner is talking to you about those boring computer games more often now, is because the last time that they broached the subject, you reacted in a way which they liked (the consequence), which made it more likely that they were going to talk to you about said computer games again in the future. It’s kind of crazy to think that those loud complaints that you make when they bring up the subject, could actually be the kind of attention that they want and the reason that they are now talking about games a little too often than you’d like!

So ..when a consequence results in a behaviour being more likely to happen again in the future, as per in the above example, this phenomenon is known as reinforcement. Reinforcement is just one principle of behaviour which behaviour analysts have discovered over years of scientific research to explain how we behave. I’d like to use this blog to share more of these phenomena with you to help you to decipher your own behaviour.

So why should you want to know more about behaviour analysis?
Because I believe it is one of the most PROACTIVE and POSITIVE ways to go about changing behaviour to improve people’s lives. At its heart Behaviour analysis has a genuine concern for people and promoting behaviour change which is meaningful and significant to the individual person. We respect people’s dignity and welfare. We want to apply what we have found out about behaviour, which has been validated through years research, to help people to reach their full potential. Hence why it is also know as Applied Behaviour Analysis.  Cheesy but true!

In a nutshell, behaviour analysis is worth knowing about because..

  • It enables you to look at behaviour in a different light and gives you a unique method of problem solving.
  • You could use behaviour analysis to figure out why you behave in the way that you do and how to bring about a meaningful and ethical behaviour change in yourself
  • It could make you realise that a qualified behaviour analyst is someone who is worth knowing. Behaviour analysis has been shown to be a highly effective approach in areas such as interventions for people with autism and performance management in work settings. Maybe ABA could help you too in a big way?