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.