Parley Services

By Parley Services

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Find out about why despite the best intentions, behaviour doesn't change.

Episode Date
Cognitive behaviour - Talk Is Still Cheap

Bobbi and Cathy review a conferrence session on the dangers of misinformation, and how our cognitive behaviour can trap us into believing things that aren't true.

Oct 24, 2019
ASD and Life Skills - Stupid Is as Stupid Does

Dr. Peter Gerhard, shares his insight and expertise with Bobbi and Cathy about teaching and learning that truly supports the lives of individuals living on the Autism Spectrum (ASD).

Sep 29, 2019
Behaviour Change - Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Podcast Episode 15 Behaviour Change - Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Dr. Ron Van Houten, Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Behaviour change procedures; pattern analyses; measurement; Functional Analysis; punishment procedures; negative reinforcement by reducing time and effort; positive punishment using delay and exertion; motivating operations and establishing operations; contextual fit; visual contextual cues; efficiency; group contingencies; maintenance  

Bobbi and Cathy: When we have a problem that isn’t being solved, we create an intervention, or an invention, that will address the problem. The person we are talking to is such an interesting man, his name is Doctor Ron Van Houten and he is an ABA doctor and a professor at Western Michigan University. He has done work all over North American and Europe in traffic safety and how to decrease the conflicts that create near misses and people getting hurt. He has changed the behaviour of both drivers and pedestrians using Behaviour Analysis. Ron sets up solutions that engineer the behavior of everybody in those situations to mitigate the risk.

Ron: There were studies done that show that cars coming up to a crosswalk don’t have a good line of sight. Places in NY city a number of people crushed to death by trucks. So they put an arrow up high but it didn’t work. One simple solution was staggering the stop lines.

Cathy: There are times when I would jay-walk, I think to myself ‘could I not have walked down to the corner to the crosswalk?”

Ron: In essence, we know that people don’t like to wait. We find out where people would like to cross. Pedestrian generators. You can try educating with behavioural solutions.

Bobbi: I would think all good functional analysis of behaviour is doing that – find  out where the behaviour is going and then decide whether you can actually change it or whether it’s better to go with the behaviour and just change the circumstances. Always juggling the reinforcement. In my situation, I measure a person against themselves. For you, you are dealing with people and conflicts and they all want efficiency.

Ron: I wanted to get people to not use the elevator when they didn’t need it. I tried putting information about health benefits of using the stairs. Didn’t change. So I increased the wait time on the elevator and everyone who could use the stairs went to the stairs. By increasing their effort and time, I changed their behaviour.

I did some things for the National Traffic Safety Administration, and we wanted to get people to wear seatbelts. I gave a survey, and sure enough put them into the car and baseline showed they wore their belts. Then we moved it to treatment, which was moving the car increase speed, if you buckled your belt, that force gradually went away. You have to repeat the reminders. A lot of people don’t buckle their seats before moving the car. You do a repeat reminder after they’re going. Pedal force-gets 100% seatbelt use, whereas before it was a delay. I used GM’s brake shift, to then get seatbelt reminder, and if they don’t buckle they can’t shift immediately, they have to wait 8 seconds. We had big increases in seatbelt use. They still have some choice.

One of the cities in Florida, were having children struck going to and from school. I did the analysis and said 1) you don’t have a lot of sidewalks near the school. I looked and people were in such a hurry dropping kids off. Motivating operation-community wants to do something about it. 2) Reduce speeding when kids are going to and from school. Educate parents about kids getting struck, needing to be under speed limit or enforce it aggressively. For years, no more children were struck going to and from school. You need to prepare people before the change that they have to accept it.

Bobbi: And this is a project you went back to and took data?

Ron: We got the community buy-in to change the way things are done. Four years later, people were telling me it was awesome. They hit a tipping point into the high 70’s-people and drivers imitate behaviour. Everyone starts to yield. It become self-sustaining and changing dynamics of culture.

Bobbi: Set up the group dynamics to either punish or reinforce.

Ron: Some of the worst places I’ve seen, people say “oh we don’t have a problem”. When people try and make efforts, that’s where change is. Where there’s no motivation to change, it becomes harder. It’s almost paradoxical, when there’s a lot of interest, usually things are happening already.

Bobbi: That’s why we follow our data.

Ron: Score and look at what’s going on in Toronto-measure running lights.

Bobbi: The programs to increase biking and decrease risks of biking in Vancouver use tools that are really varied.

Ron: Consider for a moment, children used to walk or bicycle to school. Look today at obesity cause-lack of walking and bicycling. It’s a good thing to promote walking and bicycling because it saves on our healthcare costs.

Bobbi: I do notice the more they put in structures to help bikers be more safe, it’s also the changing driver behaviour to be politer, I think you do reach a tipping point. I can’t hit them, I better join them.
Ron: There is a greater acceptance of cycling than there used to be, and a little better with pedestrians. I would say Canada does better in yielding than the United States. I tried something years a go, it was the idea at the start of the walk, we had eyes that animated to look left and right. It would increase looking-so we could prompt people to look for vehicles. In Britain they have signs “look right” because we in North America look left, to look for moving cars. Winston Churchill was almost killed in NY City stepping off the crosswalk and was hit. Reminding people to look and knowing where to look. Crossing clockwise is different than crossing counter-clockwise. You have to use more behaviour to look at something coming from behind you than ahead of you. With texting you can’t see anything.

Bobbi: I personally love the scrambling intersections in Europe. I don’t see these happening, can we expect that in the future?

Ron: Scrambling intersections, creates more delay, but tends to be where there’s a lot of people. Match up treatments to people best you can.

Bobbi: They have to provide equipment anyway, why not engineer it to be more helpful and safe for everyone. Ron: You can use something called a gateway treatment, so driver’s have to cross between them, we can get very good yielding with that and it’s an inexpensive tool. How much is it just the sign with no message? But going between these signs seems important too.

Bobbi: So it’s a visual contextual fit.

Ron: Exactly. We started to look at survival rates of the solutions. We found some that reduce the maintenance cost. Developing new ideas, some low cost. Think of the reminders in the car to wear seatbelt – costs nothing when software is already there.

Bobbi: I would contend that most of the time it’s a lot less expensive to maintain a solution, than maintain a problem. Why I love behaviour analysis, we’re all about the solution.

Ron: The other thing we can do is feedback and reinforcement. When we have a community making progress, we need to convey that to them to keep going in the right direction.  

It was so nice to have Ron interacting with us and telling us more. The part I really like is that everything he does is the same as what I do. Even though he’s applying it to a variety of groups of people and he has a specific goal, he still does an analysis of the behaviour, and uses all the same tools I do, keeps it pragmatically going until he hits a tipping point and then keeps maintaining and generalizing it. It’ll be different for me crossing the street now.  It just goes to prove that necessity is the mother of invention.

Aug 27, 2019
Habit Reversal - Old Habits Die Hard

Habit Reversal - Old Habits Die Hard

Cathy and Bobbi party in Chicago with Applied Behaviour Analysts over the next few episodes. They are at the International Behaviour Analysis Conference and learning lots about habit reversal!

14- Old Habits Die Hard
Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Experimental Analysis of Behaviour; empirically supported behaviour change procedures; habit reversal; self-management techniques; schedules of reinforcement; behaviour shaping; differential reinforcement; social significance

Bobbi and Cathy are in Chicago at the International Applied Behaviour Analysis Conference 2016.

Today we attended one of the Skinner lectures. B.F. Skinner translated behavioural science into concrete understanding of laws, through experimenting with animals. Later on, he wrote on human behaviour and how the laws may apply. His work helped to transition behavioural science from a theory into an applied practice.

Our first lecture was given by Michael Kim, who’s not an Applied Behaviour Analyst. We are learning from someone who’s using the science to demonstrate incredibly effective applications. He leads a company that figures out how to do habit reversal through organizational behaviour – how to motivate people. His website is

He talked about the steps required for habit change and why it’s so good to develop routines and habits. He discussed neuroplasticity, which is relevant to our work with people after experiencing a brain injury. When you learn a routine and make it a habit, you don’t have to use so much brain power on it. It’s critically important to learn routines after a brain injury so that you don’t have to stress out just getting through the day. Former habits are easier to re-learn, but you need more new habits when motivation and initiation are so much harder after an injury to your brain. It takes more work to make things happen, so the more things are done routinely and habitually, the less difficult life is. Example, you may not remember when you took your last shower. It’s much better to have a routine shower everyday so you don’t have to remember and initiate to do it. It’s way easier to set up a habit and take the shower every day and it just occurs. The way we do it is set up a task analysis, and break down the small steps. You have to work on establishing a habit at each step of those routines. Companies spend lots of money over organizational habits and the best ones are the ones that encourage maintaining and practicing the routines even after the change.

Clicker training is used in shaping behaviour- to ensure you’re getting the immediate feedback about what is right. It’s way more effective than trying to teach a support person to give a differential verbal reinforcement cue, but we don’t use it much with adults. We have various ways of doing shaping. Michael Kim showed a video example of an instructor teaching high jumping. She taught each piece then put them together. We have a variety of techniques and use them to teach a new behaviour. Like any other behaviour change, you have to have stimulus control, and you get stimulus control through rapport.

We’re not going to teach a behaviour that has no meaning or significance to the person who is doing it. An example of teaching that isn’t was the VonTrapp family, Sound of Music, used training to come with a whistle. It wasn’t age appropriate and was disregarding as Maria pointed out.

Jul 07, 2019
You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Podcast 13 - You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Discriminative Stimuli or Sd; Evocative MO’s; Ontogeny; neuroplasticity; pivotal behaviours; Maintenance; Intrinsic vs. extrinsic reinforcers; Unconditioned R+ and R-; Conditioned R+; Stimulus Control; Pairing; NCR; Topographies of behaviour; Stimulus class; Desensitization; Habit reversal; Flooding procedure; de-stimulation; Cusp behaviours; contextual cues; choosing target behaviour; social validity; dysregulation; behaviour shaping; Positive Behaviour Support; behaviour intensities

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley and Cathy Knights

Cathy's dog Clara is the star of this discussion about desensitization. Teaching an old dog or an adolescent one doesn't have to be challenging if you know how!

We like to talk about behaviour, yours, mine, and the dogs. The theme: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and looking at why that’s a myth.

We have MO’s that are driven by our internal states. Hormones are one example. Cathy’s dog recently spayed, could be reacting to that internal state. Also the age, adolescence she is creating neuro connections all the time. As you become older, neuro connections become harder and harder to change. It’s just a little more work to change when you’re older. She will probably mature.

Bribing with treats doesn’t maintain behaviour unless it turns into an intrinsic reinforcer. Wanting to please the owner will be intrinsic. Can be the same with people. Use an external reinforcer to pair ourselves with it. But we need stimulus control for behaviour change. The best way is to have good rapport, then you have influence. Influence can become stimulus control.

Cathy’s dog appears to be aggressive toward other animals, including dogs. Without knowing the learning history, as she is a rescue dog, it is difficult to understand the behaviour fully. There was a time when people thought that removing the fear of water out of someone was best done by throwing them in the pool. There are still misconceptions around de-sensitization.

The first step is rapport. Very often we teach some foundational behaviours first, before a desensitization technique. Cathy’s dog Clara, it can be hard to de-stimulate her. People can actually be more reactive to the suggestion of the object of fear.

People who are afraid of dogs, can become very reactive to hearing the word dog or hearing the dog bark in the distance. Whereas they can look at a picture of a dog and say it’s cute. The anticipation can create more anxiety than the object itself. Not to say that an aggressive dog wouldn’t bring on a huge attack of fear. The suggestion of the dog on a more regular basis can create more reactivity.

You don’t want to mix up typical behaviour with the challenging behaviour that is so antisocial. You know what the stimulus is for Clara - it’s another dog. You’ve been building rapport with her and gaining some control. Provide non-contingent reinforcement meaning she doesn’t have to do anything in return. Caring, generosity, attention, eye contact, smiles, compliments, interest in who they are. The other one is pair yourself with primary reinforcers – food, warmth, all the good things in life. Anyone who cannot build rapport, cannot teach, and then you have no control over stimuli.

The next is to understand that labels or suggestions can activate the behaviour. If she is easily overstimulated, you need to get control over that first. Otherwise she can’t hear what you are trying to teach. Cathy is now pairing de-stimulation with a command. She is teaching Clara some regulation, but really they are tricks to perform. Without the intrinsic reinforce of how to self-soothe or calm. Tricks are different from habits. Feeling calm is a whole lot better than not feeling calm. Clara needs to learn a foundational behaviour of how to de-stimulate and regulate. It’s different for everyone, is it poor waiting behaviour, low frustration tolerance, poor self-monitoring, poor self-regulating – any one of these behaviours can cause a person to become reactive in an environment where they feel threatened. We teach a lot of self-soothing and resilience. Resilience is the ability to have a set-back and be able to bring yourself back from it. It’s tied to the self-soothing.

Cathy’s been reinforcing successive approximations of behaviour with Clara and the dishwasher. That’s what she will be doing with desensitization. Any organism is an investment in relationship. Rescue animals are a special commitment.


Jun 10, 2019
Your Learning History - The Apple Doesn't Fall Far

Your Learning History - The Apple Doesn't Fall Far

Podcast 12 - The Apple Doesn't Fall Far

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Operant conditioning; Learning histories; Inter-behavioural conditioning; intergenerational conditioned behaviours; behavioural cusp; habilitation

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

As always, Bobbi and Cathy chat about a new take on an old adage – this one is full of hope and optimism, as they smash rules written in stone.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The influences of learning on behaviour. What are all those influences that create this perfectly individual human being that's not like any other human being? Identical twins are not the same people. So many studies use twin studies because it's such a good control of the variables, and still individual development makes distinct individuals. The tree may be a whole lot more complex than we understand. We often see the tree as the family system or parent – that may be the trunk of the tree, but there's also the branch, the roots, the leaves, etc. and the environment that supports the tree being alive. It's a great adage, but to just say a person becomes who they are because of their genetics, or what their parents did, or their IQ - it's too simplistic to say that because we know an individual has been created by all those things.

So we talk about inter-behavioural learning – all the things on the tree and more. It's a mistake for us to do an analysis simplistically. Adults are more complex than children. We have inter-behavioural generational conditioning, e.g. if you had a great grandfather who died from a snake bite, you'll probably have a greater incidence of phobias of snakes in your family even if they are unaware of Grandpa's death. You have the demeanour your mother had, or your movements are very reminiscent of someone in your family – all intergenerational conditioned behaviours.

Study of epigenetics, genes aren't hardwired, they are more like switches- they change over our life-spans. We'll have a predisposed gene that we can switch off. Plants or animals where genes can change in a matter of hours. It's still important for us to know what is in your history. The whole nature-nurture argument closed off to us the idea that change was possible if it was in your genes, e.g. if you mother had schizophrenia, it could happen to me. But it's more hopeful to see us as organisms who are responding to our environments with what we know.

Critical incidences in a person's life – sometimes something will happen during a key developing milestone and that incident can be huge.

Disordered personality in adults, the medical model was more focussed on expertise than human treatment, patient became an object. At least 10% of the analyses I do, will have had a prolonged illness in childhood where they were hospitalized for a long period of time with very little nurturing. It can be traumatic. We don't do that to children anymore.

Let's not limit the accidents of fate. Fate teaches resilience, don't try to protect children, and on the other hand facilitate to support them to the next stage of development.

We become a part of our environment and that's where our soul is. It tends to be that understanding that we are part of a whole, something greater than ourselves.

IQ testing can be wildly unreliable if we don't accommodate where the apple fell from, or the internal state of the person being tested. IQ is not a good understanding of human cognition. All those people with cognitive disabilities who are hypervigilant of caregivers, it's highly intelligent to read the internal state of another person. I've had people tell me, this person can't learn. Any person who adapts to their environment, is learning. Maybe I can't learn new phone numbers, does that mean my IQ might suffer from that or that I'm not intelligent?

A diagnosis gives you some more clues, how to best interact with someone, but don't pathologize them. When we say that these things are predetermined, then we absolutely dead-end an individual. I worry about the lack of understanding around these issues. Some of it is marketed around psychotropic drugs. Even psychiatry currently says there's no science to support a chemical imbalance in the brain.

We need treatments that take into consideration a broader understanding that each person needs to develop into who they are. We need to climb their tree, take a nap under it, and eat their apple. We need to understand there's no other apple like them. That apple has the ability to do a good job at becoming itself.


May 15, 2019
The Physical Evidence of Behaviour - Can’t Judge a Book by It's Cover

The Physical Evidence of Behaviour - Can't Judge a Book by It's Cover

Podcast 11 - Can't Judge a Book by It's Cover

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Description, prediction, control; Objective observation; observable phenomena; P+; Positive Behaviour Support; Behavioural cusp or pivotal behaviour; Intrinsic reinforcement

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

Cathy finds it creepy that she gives her private thoughts away without knowing it.

Only partly true. Some TV shows about behaviour analysts – people who can analyze people's facial characteristics, and more work being done on it all the time. More recent research is the polyvagal theory, by Stephen Porges. I want to talk about how much you can judge a book by its cover and how much we pick up on that at any time. You walk into a room, you size people up pretty quick. A good bit of first impressions come from what you're observing in the person's body, and facial features, and the presentation of the situation they are in. Judging how they are coming across in a very physical way. The polyvagal theory discusses the autonomic nervous system.

One of the questions I ask is how does it feel when you're anxious or stressed? Sick to stomach, short of breath, heart is pounding. The nerve endings are in the spinal cord behind the thoracic cavity, so you have this whole nervous system that is responding to the environment. One of the uses is biofeedback. If your system is firing all the time, then your whole physiology is working overtime. You want your parasympathetic and sympathetic systems to work in concert. You can learn how to have less stress. Autonomic nervous system is one way of recognizing what's going on. Stephen Porges points out you can always tell a lack of congruency, e.g. facial features don't match. Body language is such that you're drawn away, or...

A lot of work done on more intuitive vibes coming from people- where does the soul in a human being exist? Experiments done by Alva Noe trying to isolate where in fact is that place - he's come to understand it's in the environment. We share amongst each other and there's this interconnectedness. Our First Nations seem to have known that, part of a huge organism.

I teach staff about the way they're presenting themselves physically. There's a quote "The success of an intervention is the direct result of the internal state of the intervener". I'm trying to create interveners who are successful. So we're trying to assess where's the quality of the interaction coming from in this person because that's critical to how successful they're going to be. If I screen staff, can they give eye contact, is their face congruent? Pets, horses, and babies pick up on our autonomic nervous system. Always under our plans of what doesn't work, mirroring anxiety or concern. Many people with disabilities become quite sensitive to the internal state of the person. I'm anxious because you're anxious – fear and anger look very similar in your face. There's a hypervigilance that comes from having caregivers because it's such a vulnerable place to be. There's also a sense of pets feeling your internal state.

I'll have a client who's extremely agitated, and I need to bring my internal state down to calm, and I can control that. The best way to deescalate someone, is lower your voice, speak softly, look the person in eye with no unpleasantness.

Studies show if you spend time smiling for a minute, it changes your internal state. I'll teach and say smile and hold that smile until it becomes real.

I know in our police departments, there is currently teaching on how to approach people with mental health problems in a nonthreatening way. Sometimes they are too reinforcing – we have to tell facilities to have police more strong and firm in order to have a good natural consequence.

The internal state of the intervener is everything for the success of the intervention – we can all be a little more aware of how we present. Older people have frozen into certain looks. I had a client who I put the smiley face on his hand. He had a demeanour that was very cross and threatening looking. He reminded me of the radio show the Champ One of the early interventions was to practice smiling every time he looked at it. Then go to a mirror-learn to smile. He says to me, it's like a miracle – I smile at people, and they smile brain at me. He has a brain injury, if he can do it, so can you.

Who we are is in the physical presentation. We don't want to make assumptions about people so don't judge a book by its cover. On the other hand, make sure you have some awareness of the message you're sending at critical times in your life. Let's make sure that our internal state models what others need in that moment –for our pets and our children. I'm okay, you're okay.


May 13, 2019
Positive Behaviour - Skin a Cat

Positive Behaviour - Skin A Cat

Podcast 10 - Skin A Cat

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Positive Behaviour Support; R+ and R-; Maintaining Consequences; positive social attention; Motivating operations; Positive pairing; Non-contingent reinforcement; respondent behaviour; P-;

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

Cathy promises to practice more effective positive behaviour around the challenging behaviour in others, because sometimes polite and respectful or annoyed and irritated just doesn't do the trick.

There's more than one way to skin a cat. If there's a task at hand, you can be creative about how to get it done. The reason I like this podcast, is because it's going to be about how we can positively support others in counter-productive behaviours.

How do we not reinforce behaviour? The rule of thumb is if the behaviour is continuing or increasing, you are reinforcing it. You're maintaining it. You have a relationship with someone that is continually counter-productive, an interaction that doesn't work, if it continues or it gets worse, than whatever it is you're doing, you're actually reinforcing it. I never want to start the relationship with clients believing that I am another person who reinforces the status-quo. I take an observational approach – I never read the reports before I meet the person. I try not to have any prior assumptions. By not reinforcing, I just don't participate. On the other hand, I try to build rapport, which is necessary to bring interventions, or bring defenses down. Typically I meet the person first.

An example, "I's not about the nail" video, on Youtube. An interaction between two people where there's a whole lot of things going on, not about the nail. A person who doesn't have good insight as to why they have a specific concern, and another person who sees what's going on and is pushing back to make the other person see. What does she/he want in the video, bottom line? He wants to be the fixer. She wants him to listen to her. For most of us, we really do want people to listen to us and be sympathetic to the things that cause us strife. It's very frustrating to him, he's not being served by the behaviour, if she escalates, and she's getting some sort of underlying need met, not about the nail.

First lesson - don't try to fix people. Positively support people to come to the understanding of change. A lot of fixers reinforce the wrong thing, behaviour continues to go on. When the fixer did understand that this is what she wanted from him and he used it, she was very happy. In fact, she needs the loving attention for something other than the nail. The underlying need is there and needs to be met. Chronic problem in relationship between men and women.

So how do you build rapport with someone, without reinforcing the problem? Ignore the nail. I'm not going to participate with the nail. Non-commital, brief empathy. Ted talk on empathy , which is not about investing in the other person's feelings, it's about listening to the other's feelings- a genuine interest in finding out what's going on with you.

Two behaviours that build rapport- people who do it are often the life of party, genuinely successful at their job, they connect well to other human beings. There's a study now, if you can teach these two behaviours to care staff, you can eliminate a number of behaviours in care settings. First one is positive pairing – pair yourself with something that's reinforcing to the person. Talk about the things we like, the things we have in common. A lot of advertising is on positive pairing. You like that movie, I love that movie. Pairing something nice with you, to another person. In facility, staff have access to reinforcers, they can provide with eye contact and a smile, serving a meal for example. Food is an unconditioned reinforcer. I drove a client to McDonald's for the first sessions to get him to open up to me. I'd get lost from his house, and ask him which way, which was difficult to get from him. After week 5, he says to me as we're driving, "you drive like shit" and I was so thrilled he'd say that to me. Positive pairing.

The second behaviour is, non-contingent reinforcement – giving someone reinforcement for nothing. Those two skills cause you to build rapport with everyone. I tell staff, use it and practice with people you already have rapport with and connection. Watch yourself. You can do it in less than 15 seconds. Increase those behaviours in yourself, to a point where it's working even with the more difficult people.

In a million years I would not hold behaviours against someone. When you have someone you don't like, make sure you don't interact with them or participate with that behaviour. Look away. It's a great way to not participate in a behaviour you don't like. Build rapport- you at least will have a better relationship with that person than someone else who doesn't. If there's someone who's badly behaved, you can't go wrong. I suggest you know it's a problem if the behaviour is driving you nuts- how do you interact with that person? Come up with a way to address it. Generally they're going to be fixers or a punisher. But if the behaviours don't change...

We talked about a relationship rift with you. We ended up coming to how not to be a door mat, or don't reinforce the asking, or don't reinforce that side of the person. And not feeling guilty or uncomfortable by not participating in it.

If you're not relationship building all the time, the relationship will start to wither and die. At the end of a difficult session with a client, I move immediately into rapport building. There's a quote that I love: "you would not worry so much about what others think of you, if you knew how little they actually do". You can make a mistake, but it's fixable, with rapport.


May 12, 2019
Denial - See No, Hear No, Speak No

Denial - See No, Hear No, Speak No

Podcast 9 - See No, Hear No, Speak No

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Behaviour adaptation; avoidance and escape behaviour; positive reinforcement; verbal behaviour reinforcement; choosing target behaviour; functional behaviour; operant conditioning; coping behaviour.

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

Bobbi and Cathy confront denial without confrontation. Along the way they see it is much more than a river in Egypt.

See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. We're going to talk a little bit about denial. A big behaviour. Like all behaviour it occurs on a spectrum. It's a necessary behaviour, a coping strategy. There's a lot of human suffering adapting our behaviour. Denial is a way of managing a situation without having to commit to it, such as I'll think about that tomorrow. It's considered to be a necessary part of grieving, and many life events. It can be a good coping strategy, helping you get through an issue, you can come out of the situation and learn from it.

An example - you're in a situation at work where you've been asked to team up with someone who is quite counterproductive. You've been assigned to do a job with them and a finite period of time, you might be in a bit of denial about the behaviours of that person. It's giving them the benefit of the doubt in order to get the job done, a strategy to keep an eye on a goal or task at hand. Events that create a lot of human suffering - it's is almost necessary.

Persons with acquired brain injury sometime think there's nothing wrong with me and I'm okay. They're very much not aware of how much has changed in their brain. Often we'll label it as a loss of insight. Insight behaviours they came to the injury with or not. Insight into consequences, feelings of others - so there's lots of insight behaviours and whatever those behaviours were prior to injury they'll probably be able to gain back. After an injury, denial is often there in the first year, and its' a real impediment to rehabilitation. I'm not going to work on this as there's nothing wrong with me. Often when I'm called in, I'll say this person isn't quite ready yet for behaviour change. Some people with acquired brain injury really need to get out in the real world again understanding how their interactions with the environment have changed. You won't get a good opportunity for rehab when someone is unaware. So I'll say, call me in a year, as soon as they begin to understand that there's a problem.

Some people get pushed into a corner early on. After the acquired brain injury, things get quickly set as neurons re-wire together. A lot of people will look at denial and try to confront it, repeatedly and the person ends up fighting against it. It can be family members, friends, and professionals. If we just let the person have it for as long as it takes, it would be better. Denial is an adaptation specifically for the purpose of coping. If denial lasts longer than would be considered healthy for the person, than it becomes an insight problem.

Why is it so hard for women to leave an abusive relationships? Often because of the denial behaviour that helps them to be able to cope. Or one of the hardest jobs for human beings, is parenting. When I realized I could lose the infant in my arms, denial was the better option. Don't hold it against someone, it's a symptom, and as such you have to understand what it is the person needs help coping with.

Some people use the tactic to their benefit. When you haven't really learned to cope with feelings, such as men, sometimes with their wives, they can use denial behaviours, as they are more reinforcing than trying to explain feelings. Or there's the ones where "I never did that". Generally we would want this to be a temporary tactic and come out of it ready to problem solve.

Strategies for someone stuck in denial - if it has no solution in the moment, don't punish it and don't reinforce it. You don't want to give too much credibility but you don't want to take away someone's hope. Don't spend time on it - don't elaborate; simply acknowledge and move on.

Another tactic is just questioning - asking more about their situation. Is there any solution to the problem or, whatever it may be. Or substance abuse - if you have evidence, you can share it and say have you considered this? Provide support for what the coping is. If a person is stuck because of grief - it's better is to deal with the grief, and how can they cope better with the grieving.

Counter denial with a reality statement that's empathetic, such as it is really hard to live without that parent. Typically, you defend the safe spot you're in, as opposed to allowing another person to change it. You need the opportunity in the environment to be weak and vulnerable, to become safe and strong.


May 11, 2019
ABA Data, Scientifc Rigor - A Stitch in Time

ABA Data, Scientific Rigor - A Stitch in Time

Podcast 8 - A Stitch in Time

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Data collection; measurement; determinism; empiricism; topography; operationalize; frequency; intensity; duration; range; mean; latency; philosophic doubt; functional equivalence; replacement behaviour; social positive reinforcement; extinction; positive punishment; feedback reinforcement; scientific rigor; inter-observer agreement; pattern analysis; validity; normative vs single-subject data; baseline; reliable indicators; functional equivalence; variability; fidelity; maintenance; generalization.

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

The ups and downs of data and statistics are touted as the best consumer tool in our digital economy, and certainly for behaviour change.

A stitch in time saves nine. If you identify it quickly, or fix right away the problem is smaller.

In behaviour analysis, a lot of us are all about the data. The word data can strike fear in someone's heart – it can be very intimidating. The whole idea of taking data, puts me in the category of being a nerd.

But we all use it. For example, buying a car - I knew I wanted certain things such as a colour, engine type, etc. I did research. You can go online and get all kinds of data about anything – the criteria are going to be different between you and I. Any intelligent person who wants to make a good decision will collect data.

There are some behaviour analysts that focus more on the data than the person – we need to do a better job of teaching the humanistic side of our technology.

In order to get good data, you need to be a person who clears your head of bias. All behaviour is quantifiable. For example, count frequency and intensity of behaviour.

First thing we do is to describe behaviour and ask questions that move people into clear descriptions – tell me what you see, not what you think. A topography is a description that is operationalized, e.g. he trips, he pushes, and he'll hit someone from behind.

Then I'll ask how often does it occur? When you're focused on bad behaviour you anticipate it all the time. I'll ask, does it happen 3 times an hour? Does it happen 3 times a day? Or 3 times a week? What's the most and the least it could possibly happen?

Then we want to know the intensity - often I'll get people to show me, does it leave a bruise? Show me how hard that hit was. Often it's not that aggressive or violent. I can usually tell by the way they're talking about it how much violence is in there. If I can sense from them a lot of anxiety and fear, then I know there is probably a lot of violence to it. If it's a push, do they fall over, cause an accident? Sometimes we'll find that some behaviours termed as "aggressive" or "violent" are actually little warnings that people need to pay attention to and say "Oh I'm sorry you're overwhelmed, I'll get out of your space". Then we teach the person to use words instead of that push. How much impact on the environment and how much does the environment change? How long does it last, the duration?

In a recent case, we had someone violent towards everyone in the facility. They would have very brief outbursts of swearing that lasted 30 seconds, so we got them to start saying as soon as he recovered-good control. We ended up preventing all the greater, more challenging behaviours. What they were actually doing was reinforcing his anger management – getting control. They were lumping that in with truly violent things. We took the high level ones and said there was zero tolerance with a natural consequence of calling 911 right away. For the low level behaviours, he could be cued to get control or withdraw.

When I get staff to collect data, we get staff to look for productive behaviour. We are building in the reinforcement of the alternate behaviours and focusing staff on how to do that. We'll give them an excel graph and a checkmark sheet to say if a behaviour happened. This data becomes feedback. So often, we're not measuring behaviour, we are pathologizing. One of my hopes is that when we decide to certify someone, holding someone against their will, that there will be data attached to it. When we learn about data, we learn how to keep it so that it's scientifically sound that we could publish it. We learn to design research studies around it, and prove we have reliable inter-observer agreement. Not easy to get in a group home or large facility. People who think a behaviour is all the time, don't see when it's happening more or less.

Latency is the measure of delay between stimulus and response - sometimes used when a person has a cognitive deficit.

We also follow-up with staff and compare data taking to charting notes. Sometimes they are over and under-estimating. Do it in the moment. A common mistake is if you have really great rapport, you assume that your client is a certain way all the time. They are responding individually to the environment. How do we know a problem behaviour is truly a problem behaviour? Is there a pattern, occurring over time, over settings, over people? We work on retainer with some clients because they are so reactive to their environment that it has to be monitored in order to create stability in the person.

How do I change my own behaviour? Can I take my own data? Any marriage counsellor outlaws the words "always and never". Understand that if something really bothers you, maybe try to quantify it. Nothing more reassuring to know it's not occurring as often as you think. Reinforce the alternate behaviour better. Quantify the problem to understand the behaviour.

What is the difference between research and data taking on a single subject? The kind of normative data that drives science is based on probabilities in a normative population. Sometimes people who believe in this will see single subject data as anecdotal, which it is not. Single subject data is really valuable. Normative data tends to speak to normative population and probability. All of the research in medicine is based on normative data. The use of some medication often aren't based on data from the populations they are most often used for. College males provide a lot of the normative data.

People understand that science isn't foolproof. Some things like our environment, well in some ways it could be considered single-subject data because we only have one world. The best thing we can do is measure you against yourself to see change.

We create a baseline. We don't always have the luxury of observing the behaviour. We read incident reports, interview people who watched the incident. If we can't figure out where the baseline is, because people in environment can't provide data on it, I'll get preliminary data. We measure from that baseline when we give people tools and strategies. We train the supporter to know what to see to make sure we're getting fidelity to the plan. Or we do something else.

All it takes is 3 data points to know something is not working. We accept some variability in that data. We might lose the data at another point, so we have to follow the evidence we see. Often we're spending our time setting the stage for personal development. With private clients we have enough funding to usually see behaviour learned and the person does not go back to the challenging behaviour.

Interventions are specific to the function of that person's behaviours. Sometimes we fail if we don't have a buy in. If people are resistant to what we're saying, sometimes they are just not ready.

We should all demand that any kind of therapeutic intervention shows results and gives data on how things are getting better, be it a practitioner or a medication. We can better judge if we are being served or not.


May 10, 2019
Bullying - Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

Podcast 7 - Sticks and Stones

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Social reinforcers; negative reinforcement; response prompts; response cost; positive and negative punishment; group contingencies; manipulating motivating operations; function vs topography.

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

Bobbi visits Cathy to chat about bullying behaviour and particularly how girls and women act, interact and react to it.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt me. An old proverb, that doesn't really hold true.

It's a superficial way of looking at children's interactions when they are normalized, or abusive in nature. Boys are more likely to wrestle and have physical altercations. It can be healthy, as play wrestling. But bullying doesn't stop. People used to think it was just a kid thing.

There are places where bullies feel more comfortable, or workplaces where bullies are reinforced. It's a serious issue to address. With adults, we can teach the different ways females bully vs males. As girls get older, it becomes harder to detect, because she can set up a whole system, and make it look as a "personality conflict" and the other person is somehow deficient. The more upset the person becomes at being a target, the more they look and sometimes act like an undesirable person. Any aggression that isn't overt, is passive-aggressive. Important to discriminate when it turns into bullying.

Male bullying does tend to be more overt – physical or verbal. As boys get older, it is more verbal. For women, it often includes a withholding behaviour, which is subversive, e.g. withholding information to do one's job. Males can do it too.

With female bullying is interactional alignment, trying to exclude a targeted person and trying to create a group. Over time, people in those groups, take on roles. One true bully still, but supporters who take part in it. Then a large amount of observers who feel helpless and do nothing, but they align with the bully to be accepted. Allies and observers fear becoming a target. With empathy for the target, they are more likely to align with the bully to prevent becoming the target.

The target will be in a situation where they can't do anything right – confidence is undermined. People go on stress-leave for bullying. We are starting to be more aware of that and ‘out' those behaviours. The target is usually a person who's always been bullied, right from the start.

With kids, I talk to them, "does anyone deserve to be treated that way?" Often the group blames the target for being treated that way.

Look at the reasons why the bully is targeting. For everyone to look to the target for a solution, is a completing wrong way of supporting that person. Some bullying programs in school are still biased. Telling shy and undermined kids to confront your bully is impossible. How well does that work? The other school option of brining the bully and target together, is also problematic. Bully is unscrupulous, they will do whatever they have to do or say to look good. Duplicitous behaviours go along with what they have to do to survive as a bully. So to bringing them together with a person who is conflict aversive is horrible, they are scared and defenseless. The bully can actually make that person look bad in the meeting, e.g. cause them to not speak up for themselves, cry, etc.

As a kid, it is the responsibility of the adults to help kids. The bully should not be reinforced with too much sympathy. Agree that the bully is a damaged person, where in their reality the bear eats you or you eat the bear, so they control the situation to avoid being the target. They don't have good trust or self-esteem, the confidence they show is bravado. They've been punished or hurt. It's possible they've also been influenced or modeled by bullying parents.

When teaching adults, its important to note that it is typical behaviour for kids to learn resilience through cliques, or harsh interactions, etc. That's part of social behaviour. You don't want to misjudge typical behaviour. Bullying behaviour is a pattern of behaviour that occurs over time, over people, over settings.

A lot of girls play at bullying to see how it feels. We don't teach girls how to manage conflict. All the female role models, starting with Disney, are conflict-aversive females. Only be kind, and only be forgiving. We all want to live in that world, but it doesn't help us learn how to deal with a bully. For kids, it's difficult because they require adult facilitation.

We don't need to raise girls to be aggressive, but we do want them to know how to defend themselves against people who want to victimize them. We don't tend to reinforce assertiveness in a woman. Single-minded determination isn't often appreciated in a woman.

The beginning of all behaviour change is increasing awareness. As a society we understand this, but we haven't yet settled on the formula. I teach what the kids have told me, in terms of girls. Don't blame the victim. Seek your allies – just like your bully is doing. There is safety in numbers. Find people you know you can trust and who care about you. Even one. Maybe some girls have been told you have to tough it out alone. We have to be cognizant of the fact that if someone can't reach out for help, they are headed down a path of mental health challenges.

Girls/women need to accept their role as observer, and say "that wasn't fair; she didn't deserve that" to point out the obvious, it will stop reinforcing the bullying behaviour. Most bullies have alternate behaviours but they aren't using them as primary social behaviour. That's how bullies turn around.

I've learned how to speak to behaviour without it being personal. Don't use the techniques of the bully- use common interest of creating a calmer environment.

Many of us have believed that getting along with people is a way to success. However, how many bullies do we see at the top?

One of the most heartwarming things to see is fathers who look after their children. Fathers nurturing their kids – for so many years fathers had strict roles preventing them from doing so.

Instead of giving attention to bully, give attention to the target and say "you didn't deserve that". Having that strength to not even look at the bully, but attend to the target. More often than not, it causes them to back off. If we could systematically do this as a society, we could get rid of bullies over time.


May 08, 2019
Group Dynamics - Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right

Group Dynamics - Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Podcast 6 - Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Behaviour momentum; empiricism; determinism; philosophic doubt; accountability; adaptive behaviour; operant behaviour; social significance; recruiting reinforcement.

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

"Two wrongs, don’t make a right" and "if you can’t beat them, join them". These are attitudes we run into all the time as people exercise more choice and control day to day, and are more used to getting reinforcement.

Orange is the New Black TV show on Netflix is a good example. It demonstrates that behaviour is a learned history of how people adapt. It’s a show about criminals, but it never invites you to judge those people. Everyone has a story. Everyone has good and bad aspects. Everyone will do a better job, if they know how. There is no redemption in retaliation. Redemption comes in the generosity that we can put out a hand and help a person.

When we feel like staying on top of our behaviour in an ethical or scrupulous way, in a world that is so unscrupulous, it can be hard with no access to reinforcement. Daniel Goldman, who wrote Emotional Intelligence, said that there are bad things that happen, but the world turns on the small generosity and kindnesses between people. The fact that people want to do good for their friends, those acts so outnumber the weighty evils out there. The world could not continue to exist without the true goodness in the hearts of most people.

You don’t need to go to the dark side to have success. Looking at the human condition can be bleak. In our work, we don’t tell people to be nice - that doesn’t change anyone’s behaviour. When you challenge someone’s behavioural conditioning, they will reject you - it’s a part of their personality.

There is a flip side to the "if you can’t beat them, join them". When a new client comes - I join them; I suspend my judgement and their resistance. I accept what’s going on with them as a way of coping - a way to survive. Behaviour can imprison us based on our learning history. When we learned it, it was relevant. The very first thing is take away the resistance. Instead of blaming or punishing the person, or self-blaming too. We can’t make people behave.

We work with adults and adolescents with good intellectual capacity - so we ask what’s going to work for you, in order to get good reinforcement and use the replacement behaviour. Very often we’ll teach how to direct the environment better, e.g. to explain, to understand, to recruit reinforcement. Turn the environment into a much more generous, altruistic, and kind environment. Help everyone to be more mindful. Stop pushing back against the person, and understand they are expressing needs that must be met, start seeing behaviour as an adaptation. Our role is to help adapt in a different way.

Many of us want to be kind and generous, and yet we may not be helpful. Sometimes we over-accommodate, rather than set up natural contingencies. If you are living with a vulnerability, than you should live with good support and feel safe and okay. We can only ever control our own behaviour.


May 06, 2019
Verbal Behaviour - Talk is Cheap

Verbal Behaviour - Talk is Cheap

Podcast 5 - Talk is Cheap

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: mentalism; explanatory fiction; philosophic doubt; contextual cueing; general case programming; autoclitic; discriminative stimuli; Skinner’s "Pure behaviour"; verbal behaviour; listener, speaker; automatic reinforcement.

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

There is a lot of science on verbal behaviour and how talk influences cognition.

There are a lot of different ways to have cognitive biases about behaviour- we are snowflakes, making our own assumptions or biases about ourselves or myths from society.

A common proverb is seeing is believing. Saying is believing is the right one. If I say it enough, then it is true. When you say something out loud, you are learning it best and processing in your brain. When you retrieve it, it will sound true to you as the brain processes your environment and discriminates between efficiencies. Storytelling-may have some basis in reality, but embellishment occurs. How can you ever tell the truth? We all have varying degrees of ability to distort our thinking through what we say. Unless there’s evidence to think otherwise, the story is true, e.g. witnesses interpret what they’re seeing, not always the facts. When you layer your observation on behaviour then the detail is less reliable and less precise. Our brains are always working to store memories where there is a context, e.g. retrieving memory from childhood through a smell. One of the ways the brain stores memory efficiently is putting it into the context of how you’ve adapted to the environment- very personalized.

Often Parley tells people don’t ask a person why they do what they do. The more you push someone into a corner and demand an answer, the more defensive they become.

Compartmentalized things on a factual basis is very efficient. We all have different versions of reality. Retelling embellished stories is not a lie. Lying behaviour is definitely not true and said to manipulate another person.

Then there’s a group dynamic effect, e.g. rudeness is contagious in the workplace as people are triggered by other rude people. If you can infiltrate the group by being equally strong in ethics and generosity then the dynamic can change. Those interactions are an adaptation to the environment. Great leaders influence in the right way- by offering something more reinforcing such as positive social reinforcement.

Telling isn’t teaching- most of us think if we tell people what to do, they’ll change the error of their ways. While we think we may be providing enlightenment, we likely aren’t making a difference to their behaviour.

Cognitive dissonance is when we say one thing and do another; we live with contradictions and are accepting of those contradictions. Most of this comes through our language. Hypothetical questions get hypothetical answers. This all becomes a problem when it becomes a barrier to what we need or want in life.

Be mindful-observe and then respond, as opposed to giving in to automatic conditioned behaviours. There’s good verbal behaviour that allows the social grace to accommodate others without being painfully honest- "If there is nothing good to say, say nothing at all."

So important to find as much truth as we can, understanding that talk is cheap. The internet has us relying on most reinforcing message we can get, rather than extensive research on something.

Challenging someone’s behavioural conditioning invites rejection.

Work toward building the ability to self-soothe, self-monitoring behaviours, and have resilience, etc. Examine underlying needs and important behaviours to exercise.


May 05, 2019
The Truth About Consequences

The Truth About Consequences

Podcast 4 - Truth or Consequences

NOTE: the word “punishment” is used in this podcast in the commonly used context, not the ABA technical definition.

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Punishing contingencies, SRS contingencies; aversive stimuli; negative reinforcement; negative punishment; positive reinforcement and positive punishment; rule governed behaviour; generalized conditioned reinforcers and punishers; contingency planning; contracting; goal setting

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

There has to be consequences for problem behaviour.

We often think we can manipulate the consequences, likely a holdover from dealing with children. As a parent or teacher, you have a responsibility to steer behaviour in the right direction. But as soon as someone reaches adolescent or adulthood, those days are over. We cannot externally or arbitrarily impose consequences.

A consequence is a meaningful and relevant response to a behaviour that occurs as an immediate and direct result of the behaviour. An action, interaction, and reaction with the environment always has a consequence. Arbitrarily imposed consequences, e.g. I decide what you did was unacceptable and I will impose an aversive, punishing consequence for that behaviour, are problematic.

Consequences are like eliciting stimuli- occurs within the minute after the behaviour. When you receive that consequence immediately after the response, it strengthens the response every time. Often the consequence is imperceptible to us; that’s why punishment isn’t a deterrent to behaviour- it only causes you to lose rapport. You can over-punish a child and create problems. Punishment is not best way to motivate behaviour; it’s good to have clear consequences in children, but not when you’re into adulthood. Some of us are deterred by punishers, e.g. getting a parking ticket, but it does not make you obedient. It was efficacious at the time to do what you needed in order to violate the parking rules.

We’re talking about the responsible use of consequence, e.g. you can’t make other people behave by imposing consequences of your own. You’ll end up aggravating their behaviour, getting into power struggles, and violating human rights – all huge source of conflict. One of the things that may make the world a better place is if we stopped trying to punish each other. There needs to be deterrents and imposed consequences, but unless you know the function of the behaviour, you can’t assume that what you do after the behaviour is over has any influence whatsoever.

Threats, empty threats, are wasted consequences. Lecturing someone, moralizing, these are all counterproductive and don’t lead to good interactions. Since when has war stopped war? A prison is not a deterrent, but that’s not to say there isn’t a need for risk management. Behaviours can become so entrenched, you can’t do a behaviour change process. If there’s any potential for the behaviour to be influenced, there are so many other ways.

What works is not arbitrary consequences, but…teaching!

Looking at the underlying need that's not being met for the person and how we can teach them to recruit the reinforcement they need is best.

We all live with rule governed behaviour, e.g. you go to work, and you find other consequences throughout the day to reinforce you - that’s what motivates you at work. You can’t create rules that were made to be broken, and you can’t have arbitrary rules, e.g. can’t make rules for individuals that no one else has. We can make rules that are collaborative e.g. driving rules, littering, etc. As a society, we can obey rules ourselves and model them, and further drive the pro-social process.

Another thing is contingency planning - every time something happens, there is a detrimental consequence to the rest of us, e.g. not taking a bath for a week-it means you won’t do well in the community, people won’t want to be around you, etc. What can we do about it if you don’t take a bath? Contingency planning puts accountability back into the hands of the person behaving. Allows plans to be readjusted. The arbitrary consequences remove accountability-which sends the wrong message to adolescents, e.g. we become responsible and not them. Removing the responsibility for consequences, makes the problems worse.

Fair contracting looks at what the person is going to do, not what they shouldn’t do. It’s an agreement between two people. Also goal setting -how do we support you toward those goals? Need to be broken down into steps, e.g. you want a job, and more education, start at getting up at the same time every day, etc. and reward and reinforce each step of their goal. Everyone needs to have a dream.

Risk management - preventing people from putting themselves at risk is problematic when imposing consequences before the problem occurs - overreacting. People need natural consequences, e.g. broke a computer, can’t use computer again. Prohibition often creates more impulsive behaviour.


May 04, 2019
Actions Speak Louder - Understanding Behaviour Functions

Understanding Behaviour Functions When Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Podcast 3 - Actions Speak Louder Than Words - Behaviour Functions

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Functions of behaviour, Operant behaviour, Operant conditioning, learning history, autoclitic verbal behaviour, contextual cues, topography of behaviour, deprivation, satiation, attention-motivated behaviour, social positive attention, contrived contingencies, avoidance and escape motivated behaviour, tangibly motivated behaviour, sensory motivated behaviour, functional bias.

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

Functions of behaviour. The common sense saying that “the proof is in the pudding” means it’s all about outcomes.

All behaviour is functional, it doesn’t mean it's purposeful. We don’t believe in dysfunctional behaviour, as that’s an impairment or deficit-based way of description. We look at behaviour as strengths-based, e.g. all behaviour can change, just as we grow and change as people. We may hold onto some for a long time, but the key to knowing how to change it is understanding the function it serves for us.

Behaviour has a learning history of ways we’ve adapted to our environment- over time, over settings, and with different people. Our brain has learned the short-cuts of how to interact with our world in effective, efficient, and reliable ways, but sometimes our level of awareness is practically nil. Actions speak louder than words because a lot of the time we’ll try to give an explanation, or get out of trouble. We don’t really know why, we're just responding to the environment in that moment. It is verbal behaviour, and when we say something out loud 3 times, we often believe it.

Never ask people why they did something, as everyone gives an answer- but the level of insight is quite variable. We are trained to give an answer, and it’s a red herring. So behaviour analysts use actions, e.g. I can say I’m a flexible, calm person, but then my actions show I am not in different situations. No one’s behaviour is all that reliable- either cognitive biases occur so that you don’t know what flexible behaviour is, or you learned a flexible behaviour but only in specific circumstances. We have certain resilience's, and certain trigger points. Behaviour is on a spectrum.

We have to be careful how we describe behaviours because words are so subjective and mean something different to many people. Use concrete and finite words-otherwise people think they know what the word means, so we cannot assume. We can all look at a behaviour and make assumptions, but we all have cognitive biases.

The laws of behaviour science are elegantly simple- they illuminate what we are seeing, and give us a pragmatic framework for problem solving. One of the frameworks is that all behaviour has a function. There are only four functions of humans:

  1. Attention-motivated behaviours: attention-seeking term shouldn’t be used as a derogatory term as everyone is seeking attention. We want to connect with each other; our well-being and survival depends on attention-motivated behaviours. All of us have a certain amount of attention-motivated-some more than others. We all have different rates of deprivation or satiation. Accountable behaviours are attention motivated and include behaviours that cause a person to explain rationally and justify actions to others and perhaps change actions from input of others. Some people don’t know how to recruit the right amount of social reinforcement, or learned poorly to adapt to environments, or there exists an impairment that causes challenges. We need to teach attention-motivated behaviour, as an innocuous way to recruit social positive attention. Attention motivated behaviours are easily reinforced. It can also be easier to find a replacement behaviour that is more reinforcing.
  2. Avoidance or escape motivated behaviour-we all have all these motivations. We avoid aversive situations. Behaviour can change over time. We used to answer the phone because it was attention-motivated, but now with voicemail, call display, etc. we have more avoidance. We escape if it’s an unpreferred person. Avoidance is anticipating a problem or concern, and addressing it before problems occur so you don’t have to go to the escape part. Healthy avoidance is avoiding situations that would lead us to do something we wouldn’t want to do. Usually avoidance reaches a breaking point and then we are escaping.
  3. Tangibly motivated behaviour is where I need something, e.g. money, things, etc. When we’re children, tangibly motivated is the first thing we learn, e.g. food, rewards, etc. Historically children were trained out of tangible motivations as they became adolescents, society has changed and now it’s ever-present, e.g. if I want something now I should have it now. In adults, we see tangibly motivated behaviour that occurs with addiction procurement, e.g. I need to get money, or drugs, etc. It helps us to be happy too- reward ourselves for accomplishment. Too much can cause problems.
  4. Sensory-motivated behaviours are those that cause us to feel good internally, e.g. coffee, beautiful music, wine, etc. Addictions are problematic sensory motivated behaviours. Highly variable how each behaviour is manifested, e.g. anger.

A boss bangs on a table in a room full of his loud and noisy employees, and everyone in the room looks at him, turns away from him, and goes silent. This string of consequences could be attention from everyone; avoidance with everyone going back to work; needing bonus riding on the work – tangible; or holding in frustrations and needing a cathartic release - sensory. Actions speak louder than words, but we cannot make assumptions about what is going on. He was reinforced, and the consequence is maintaining it. One of these 4 is stronger than the rest in all of us. You therefore look at challenging behaviour in others and make assumptions based on your own underlying functions.

Mindfulness will improve by stopping the assumptions and accepting that maybe there needs to be more information.


May 03, 2019
Changing Behaviour Cold Turkey

The Cold Turkey Myth About Behaviour

Podcast 2 - No Cold Turkeys

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: automaticity; behavioural momentum; alternate or replacement behaviours; motivating operations; establishing operations; evocative effect; deprivation and satiation; repertoire; response class; stimulus class; discriminative operant; functional equivalence; habilitation and social significance.

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

Find out about why despite the best intentions, behaviour doesn’t change. Bobbi and Cathy explore the behavioural science of "going cold turkey"

One of the myths of behaviour is that a person can just stop. If someone is doing the wrong thing over and over again, we say "just stop".

But there is no such thing as cold turkey. Behaviour is a hardwired mechanism, e.g. 2 year olds don’t stop when you tell them to, unless they know what else to do.

For example, trying to quit smoking cold turkey- no such thing. A person may be getting to a point of preparation for being ready to change (possibly without knowing) that they are going through a process of behaviour change.

ABA technology of behaviour change includes using whatever tool has a good evidence basis. Behaviour analysts use whatever works; we are pragmatists.

You can't just stop a behaviour- it actually has to go somewhere. Needs an alternate, a replacement, to serve the function in a different way. A more reinforcing and new behaviour, is needed.

One way of changing behaviour is removing the reinforcing consequence for that change, e.g. smoking at a young age to look older. If this was a social function, society has now made it socially unacceptable, as people smoke alone. Or it could be a sensory motivated behaviour (addiction). It is automatically reinforcing and can be more challenging to change.

We’ll talk more another time about underlying motivations.

However, removing the reinforcing consequence is not always effective because it doesn’t always address the function. It may alienate the person, or move the behaviour to a more counterproductive behaviour, e.g. quitting a smoking addiction cold turkey could result in the use of another substance that is more detrimental. The underlying need must first be met.

A functional analysis of behaviour is required in order to understand and meet the needs of the behaviour.

Another way to change is to anticipate behaviour by understanding the motivating operations- what sets up the behaviour (e.g. I have a headache, I’m not hungry, etc.), what makes it easier for the behaviour to happen. So with someone who smokes in order to avoid social situations, they really need the walk to take a break. If there’s a sensory function, then they can look at a replacement behaviour for it like gum chewing.

Can’t just stop- there is no such thing as cold turkey.

Setting up a group of alternate or replacement behaviours is also a way to change behaviour. We do this with a 2 year old by redirecting, offering a choice in another direction, distracting, etc. Often direction or demands can end up in power struggles. We need to teach another group of behaviours that can be just as rewarding, e.g. chewing gum in order to meet the sensory need for the person who smokes. It is best to choose pro-social behaviours that recruit social reinforcement for you.

Lastly, interrupting the eliciting stimuli is another form of behaviour change. When teaching staff to manage a behaviour plan, we instruct them to look away and discontinue engagement. It’s important to collect yourself, e.g. take notes if you are easily triggered by a challenging behaviour in the moment. It’s better to de-stimulate or de-sensitize before interacting with the behaviour.

There are so many tools out there, but they all have a different purpose. Children often have a single set of triggers but adults often streamline them in a group of related behaviours. Behaviour responses grow, and so does the stimulus class or number of triggers. The triggers always have a common theme, e.g. person at the Christmas dinner and someone is talking to him meaninglessly; this could occur in a number of ways and at any point in time.

If a behaviour is not challenging in any way and it’s not disrupting your life but makes it better, go with it. We should just be who we are and do a good job at that.


May 02, 2019
Applied Behaviour Analysis - the Basics

ABA Concepts Explained

Podcast 1 - Intro: Let's Talk Behaviour

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: automaticity; functional adaptation; operant conditioning; parsimony; pragmatism; S-R-S contingencies; radical behaviourism; interbehavioural contingencies

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

We have a lot of myths and misconceptions about behaviour.

The science of behaviour has provided a lot of information and insight over the last 100 years.

I like to read the science and go out into the real world and see how it applies.

Applied Behavioural Analysis. Good behavioural science should make good common sense.

Behaviour is about how we act, interact and react with others, and analysis uncovers the underlying reasons why we do the things we do.

We can choose to change our own behaviour to make our lives work better for us.

You are never too old to learn new behaviour.

New ways to think about and understand our own behaviour.

Your first mistake is you wait until New Years to make changes!

All behaviour is:

  1. An adaptation, an interaction with the environment. Actions, Interactions, Reactions. There isn't any such thing as stupid.
  2. Functional, having a reason, a purpose. We're all pragmatists. There is no such thing as dysfunctional behaviour, if it wasn't serving a purpose it would stop.
  3. Automatic, occurring all the time. One of the hardest things our brains do is social interaction. Telling isn't teaching.
  4. Learned and shaped by its consequences, typically within the family system but not always. Fussy eaters have mothers who don't like vegetables! Your learning history and family system consist of more than just your mother. Spontaneity and flexibility exist but patterns in our behaviour are measurable and predictable: and so may be recognized and changed.

Cathy: we've got a lot to learn ahead of us!


May 01, 2019