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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On changing behaviour

We all do it; that is we all influence others to change how they are in the world, or what they do around us. Without having been trained, we all understand 'operant conditioning'. You do something nice for me; I reward you with a smile, a comment or a hug. Usually (unless you have mixed feelings about me and wish secretly that I would go away, or my hug comes with bad breath), that reward just slightly increases the chances you will do whatever it was again. Conversely if you say something unpleasant, or do something that upsets me, I may respond with a frown, an angry comment, or a slap (Mmm, that last has been pretty rare in my life; think the last one was to my nearly 30 yr-old daughter when she was 18 months and threatening to cross a busy road without me; told her twice, then picked her up over my shoulder and smacked her bum; she has never forgotten or forgiven, I think).
Anyway back to the blog. We build patterns between us that are full of my responses to you and your responses to my responses. Some people are remarkably subtle about their responses, and if you were a child in their family, you would have been 'trained' to recognise just the mere hint of an eyebrow being raised. In turn, you come to expect that others will pick up on your 'trained in' subtlety; and that may lead to problems if you are trying to relate to someone who does not come from a subtle family, and only recognises 'in your face' feedback (coming from their type of family where the volume button was constantly on 'high' when they were a child).
So let's apply this to Karl (see last 2 blogs). I think overall the volume seems to have been on high most of the time in his family (perhaps particularly in responses from Dad), though I also think that feedback may have been erratic with sometimes over-the-top responses for small naughty things; conversely low volume (subtle) or no feedback for positive things. So, I am going to have to try and 'learn the language of Karl's family'. Not so I can join in; rather so that I can help Mum to perhaps be more consistent in her responses, and perhaps be a bit more explicit to Karl so he knows what the responses to his actions mean. I feel a big job looming; guess we will have to find out what sort of family Mum comes from...
Of course these are micro changes, and we will need to build them into secure patterns if we are to get consistent changes happening. These patterns in their large forms are inherent in the best researched forms of treatment for behaviour disorders (see Multisystemic Therapy or MST), and also if we want to really try to understand how prevention might work (see Lacourse, 2002).

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