Saturday, June 2, 2007

Changing Behavior

If you guys haven't read the inaugural post over at Zyphre's blog (yes, THAT Zyphre), you should definitely take the time to do so. In it, he dives into the topic of behavior modification, or more specifically, his very personal bout with addiction, and questions about how to approach breaking the cycle within someone close to him without seeming the hypocrite, since he was just able to break the cycle within himself. Good stuff presented expertly, to say the least, so head over there when you get the chance.

The mechanism of behavior mod is a totally interesting one. It's embedded in all sorts of instances and has countless applications based on basic principles of reinforcement. Want to get a girl to go out with you? Behavior mod (hopefully not much of it). Want your parents to get off your back? Behavior mod. Want to stop yourself from acting like a jackass at job interviews, or even get yourself to a job interview in the first place? Behavior mod. Yup, it's everywhere, even in a PK guild meeting we had earlier this evening (kinda). Of course, creating a behavior mod program that actually works is the tricky part, and this is where most people who don't know much about it fail miserably.

The main problem can be summed up by one truth: knowledge alone does not change behavior. Think about it. How many people truly know that exercise is good for one's health, but don't engage in physical activity? Ask your average obese American and he'll tell you he knows he should exercise, but doesn't. The same goes for smokers. How many know it's bad for them, yet continue to smoke anyway? Probably a huge majority of them, if not all. Kinda depressing if you think about it.

So, what is it that causes the discrepancy between what one knows, and what one does? On a basic level, non-immediate negative consequences, for one. The longer one has to wait between an act and it's consequence, the less likely the consequence will change the behavior. Using smoking as an example, lung cancer just doesn't happen after the first cigarette, so that consequence isn't viewed as threatening. The fact that people can enjoy smoking's benefits (it makes you look cool!) without immediate punishment is a big reason smokers continue to slowly kill themselves while making corporate America rich. Hooray for capitalism!

Potent reinforcers are another variable that separate knowledge from behavior. Using smoking again, think about the chemical "ahhhh" people get when they take in a puff of nicotine. The relaxing feeling and "tastes like happy" result of cigarette consumption (especially paired with non-immediate negative consequences) reinforces the behavior, i.e., causes it to occur again and again. The knowledge of poor health promotion fails yet again.

A third, and somewhat more in-depth variable behind the fact that knowledge fails miserably is Cognitive Dissonance, which is the feeling that arises from engaging in a behavior that conflicts with one's beliefs about that behavior. What ends up happening is that a person restructures their perspective in order to justify their act. Smokers may argue that they can quit whenever they want to, or that smoking itself isn't as hazardous to one's health as they've been led to believe. Yeah, that actually happens. A bit crazy, eh?

So yeah, knowledge fails miserably. So talking at people and talking at people alone is essentially a waste of time. One must construct a system of reinforcers associated with behaviors that compete with those one wishes to change, in order to see a positive result. This doesn't have to be incredibly complex or anything, but it does take a bit more effort and planning than many people are aware is necessary.

So, when you read Zy's post, think about your behavior, what drives it, what reinforces it, and what you think would be a beneficial approach to changing it that he could potentially apply to his situation. We're all a part of this addiction, so, we may just come up with something useful. I'm totally interested to read what you guys have to say.

Gl Zy.


Arydan/Impervious said...

Ah, the addiction issue. I personally will not deny I am addicted to this game. It's strange to recognize my addiction and know the negative impacts it has on my life, yet continue to play.

I agree completely with what you said. With no immediate consequence, it is very easy to continue a pattern of negative, self-destructive behavior. Which is why I feel people fall into an addictive cycle with this game so easily. There is no immediate consequence to playing 60 hours a week. In fact, in the game, this usually benefits you, so players are in a sense encouraged to play those longer hours.

The consequences of being addicted to this game creep up on you. They slowly seep into your life until you're so absorbed in the game you barely notice it. Everything that used to hold passion and value to you pales in comparison to a good session of WoW. And you barely stop to think why you don't draw as much, or why you've lost touch with friends.

I do not think I could quit this game cold turkey. I think the only circumstances I could quit under would be me growing bored of it or if something so devastating happened in game or in real life it would be too emotionally troubling to play.

It's scary to know these things and continue to play. But it also gives me some perspective that I think other "addicts" lack.

JAGOeX said...

I hear ya Ary. The sense of accomplishment in this game, as juvenile as it is, make people feel important. One ex-WoW player described it as a "rock star persona" that people develop - something they lack IRL, makes them feel important, and that keeps bringing them back to the game. Not everyone suffers from this change, but Alex definitely has it's fair share of those that do.

What I find most pathetic is that it has gotten to the point, within some people, that being a good player is more important than being a good person. Like you said, there are so many tangible things we've come to neglect IRL just to get stuff done in-game. And while in-game, some have developed ultra-egos that are unwilling to see things any other way but their own. Rock stars indeed.

All of these issues can interact to make for a very unpleasant experience (especially Alex-horde-side), and yet, we keep coming back. Psychologically speaking, Bliz knows exactly what it was doing when it designed this game. It's meant to keep us coming back day after day, even hour after hour, no matter how miserable we get in doing so. It's totally working as intended.