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.