TRY HARDER, DO BETTER?

Typically, when we want to achieve a particular outcome, the natural response is to try harder or perhaps do better. While there's certainly much to be said regarding rolling up your sleeves and working hard, that's not necessarily the most efficient way to experience a particular outcome in every situation. Consider the following example: you've got a preschooler that you want to teach to clean his own room. In order to build momentum, you might have most of the room cleaned, with just a couple items out for him to pick up. The opposite scenario, which would be a room that's a mess, might take a significant amount of effort to clean, which may discourage the learner, thus never teaching him at all. 

Today's lesson is focused on the concept of effort. Response effort is essentially the amount of energy required to complete a particular task or to engage in a particular behavior (or response for that matter). Why is this important? In order for us to teach our clients, your children, we need to evaluate and assess how much effort is required in order to engage in particular behaviors. I hope that the concept is starting to become alive as we paint the picture. 

For the purposes of building momentum in the right direction, we might consider decreasing the response effort for engaging in appropriate behavior, while aiming to increase the effort required for engaging in inappropriate behavior. Sounds crazy, but clever right? Recently I was reading in the Journal of ABA (also known as JABA) and a study was published where the clinicians researched this exact issue. What they did was require that stereotypic behavior be done in the garage. I'm sure they said "Okay, well, if you'd like to do that, it's fine as long as you're doing it in the garage." What they noticed was a decrease in the behavior from the onset of treatment. Why? Because they made it "harder" to engage in the behavior, so it decreased. Even just the walk from the living room to the garage, required enough effort that the behavior started to diminish (a lot of effort for not a lot of payoff perhaps). 

Another example involving a behavior that we'd like to see increased, might involve communicating for a snack. When I was an inexperienced behavior analyst at the start of my career, I'd do silly things. I'd have students in my preschool class learning to communicate, whether vocally or using icons or pictures. I'd have students perfectly request a snack by exchanging a picture, and then I'd erroneously require them to do other unnecessary steps, yet I thought this was the "right" thing to do. TERRIBLE! What I should have done was reinforced their first attempts at communicating immediately. That would have strengthened the behavior because it would have had more temporal contiguity (reinforcement is delivered immediately after the response) and I would have avoided a lot of frustrated learners. The underlying concept is that I should have decreased the response effort required for that response, yet I failed to do so. Not any more, and neither will you!

The "takeaways" from this post:


1. Make it easy to engage in the behavior you want to increase

2. Make it tough to engage in the behavior you want to decrease


Please let us know if you have questions or comments, we'd love to hear from you!