Stop undesired behavior: This project is designed to give you experience with operant conditioning. You are going to choose an unwanted behavior of yours that you would like to eliminate or a desirable behavior that you would like to increase. You are going to explore the causes of that unwanted behavior, using concepts from both classical and operant conditioning. The end goal of the project is for you to understand why you engage in that behavior (even if you don’t successfully change the behavior).
The first 5 days of the project will require you to track your behavior. This should provide you with two important kinds of information. First, you will gain an idea of just how often you engage in the behavior. Second, you should take note of any associations that you have made between stimuli present in the environment and the occurrence of the behavior. Are you most likely to engage in the behavior in certain locations, or after certain stressful experiences in your life (e.g., argument with friends or family, work)? Are there certain emotions that cause you to engage in the behavior, or other emotions that often occur when you don’t engage in the behavior? You should record your data in a table format, recording how often you perform the behavior and what situational factors are present. Break your data sheets into regular periods (e.g., every hour or every 30 minutes or every class period), and keep the periods of time the same for each day that you are recording data. You will find it easier to use short intervals of time, rather than recording several hours in one interval.
For the next 4 days, you should use reinforcement to change the behavior. Reward yourself with check marks; 30 minutes or one hour of changed behavior might be enough for you to earn a check mark. Collect check marks for rewards. For example, if you can go for 30 minutes without biting your nails, give yourself a check mark, If you can collect 10 check marks, reward yourself with ice cream at dinner. If you cannot collect 10 check marks, punish yourself by not getting any dessert. Alternately, you may want to collect check marks toward a “day off” from controlling your behavior (not one of the data collection days!).
NOTE: the project takes 9 days to complete. Choose your behavior carefully; It will be much harder for you to write your paper if you choose a rarely performed behavior. Think of some unwanted behavior that you perform several times a day, not just occasionally (e.g., cursing, chewing on your pencil). Alternately, choose some behavior that you would like to perform more than you are (e.g., sitting up straight).
Your 4-5 page paper should include the following:
A description of your target behavior and why you chose to manipulate that behavior.
An interpretation of the first 5 days, using classical conditioning terminology. What associations were you making between stimulus and response? In more broad terms, why do you think that you performed the behavior with those sorts of environmental stimuli?
An interpretation of the 4 days of rewarding your behavior, using operant conditioning terminology. What rewards and punishments did you use? Why did you feel those would be effective? How effective did you find the reward and punishment system to be? How successful were you in changing your behavior?
What do you think helped you to change your behavior on the last 4 days? What do you think kept you from adequately changing your behavior during the last 4 days? How likely are you to maintain this change in the future?
Which approach do you think was more useful for understanding your behavior? Which was more useful for changing your behavior? What other approach do you feel would have been better for influencing your behavior?
In addition, you should include your data sheets containing the 5 days of behavior monitoring and the 4 days of rewards and punishments. This assignment is worth 100 points and is due the last week of class.
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