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.