Thursday, June 28, 2012

Motivating Employees to Get Healthy with Incentives for Wellness Program Providers

"Many employers are moving away from strategies to manage the cost of illness and are investigating ways to promote health through wellness programs," Don Doster, gBehavior CEO, said. "Building on our vast experience in behavior modification to improve safety compliance and performance, we designed Rewards for Wellness(TM), our corporate wellness incentive platform, to reward employees for choosing a healthy, active lifestyle. Our rewards program also monitors high-risk employees such as diabetics, and encourages them to follow treatment regimes. By realizing a significant reduction in claims costs during the first year, our clients benefit from a significant savings in healthcare costs." more

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Immediate Rewards for Good Scores Can Boost Student Performance

Test performance can improve dramatically if students are offered rewards just before they are given standardized tests and if they receive the incentive immediately afterward, new research at the University of Chicago shows. Educators have long debated the value of financial and other rewards as incentives, but a series of experiments in Chicago-area schools showed that with the right kind of rewards, students achievement improved by as much as six months beyond what would be expected. The rewards apparently provide students with an incentive to take tests more seriously. One implication is that policymakers may underestimate students' ability in otherwise low-performing schools, according to the research team that conducted the experiments. Researchers used financial rewards to boost performance for older students and non-financial rewards, such as trophies, to improve performance among younger students. more

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Birds Can Recognize People's Faces and Know Their Voices

New research suggests that some birds may know who their human friends are, as they are able to recognize people's faces and differentiate between human voices. Being able to identify a friend or potential foe could be key to the bird's ability to survive. Animal behaviour experts from the University of Lincoln in the UK and the University of Vienna worked with pigeons and crows in two separate studies. Research published in Avian Biology Research shows that pigeons can reliably discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar humans, and that they use facial features to tell people apart. more

Monday, June 25, 2012

Don't Fine Drivers For Speeding - Pay Them To Obey Limits

Behavioral psychology tells us that there are two ways to modify human or animal behavior. Negative reinforcement, as the name implies, generally involves something unpleasant in reaction to an undesired behavior. Positive reinforcement involves some sort of reward for acting as desired. Generally speaking, positive reinforcement usually produces quicker (and more consistent) results than negative reinforcement, yet the threat of negative reinforcement governs our behavior every time we get behind the wheel. Exceeding the speed limit is a behavior undesired by authorities; get caught, and your negative reinforcement comes in the form of a speeding ticket, possibly accompanied by a significant increase in the cost of your automobile insurance. more

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Right Tools for Your Lasting Fitness Routine

Motivation is the key ingredient to sustaining an exercise regimen long term, and sound investing increases positive reinforcement: a feel-good sensation that conditions you keep repeating a behavior...Self-efficacy dictates you find a gym you like that is convenient and has a crowd and staff you mesh with. You buy some decent gym clothes you feel good in and hire a qualified trainer to show you the ropes. You feel more confident as you learn and progress at the skill of lifting heavy things and putting them back down. This provides a sense of accomplishment — the feel-good sensation I mentioned earlier. This "positive reinforcement" is operant conditioning in action. Developed by B.F. Skinner in 1953, this fundamental concept of how rewards reinforce behavior is what prompts you to become a regular gym rat. more

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Effective Consulting: What Teachers Have Taught Me

Behavior analysts are constantly challenged to develop and provide effective behavior strategies designed to reduce or eliminate problematic behavior as quickly as possible. I've learned that creating an effectual behavior plan is only half the challenge. A behavioral consultant is effective only if the teacher actually implements the recommended strategies. While effective consultation has to accurately assess situations and develop creative and successful ideas, it must also make complex strategies practical, understandable and tailored to the person implementing them. more

Special Issue: Inclusion of Children With ASD in General Education

The most recent issue of the journal Behavior Modification is now available online. It is a special issue focusing on the inclusion of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in general education. more

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Terry McSween: Common Problems with Behavioral Observations

Last year I had the opportunity to speak with a group of 35 construction and maintenance contractors that were involved in active behavior-based safety (BBS) peer observation processes. I was invited to speak on the topic of improving peer safety observations...Those of you who know Quality Safety Edge probably know that we are somewhat obsessed with data, so of course, I found the result of this assessment interesting.  While the sample is not statistically random, this group provided insight into what I suspect many organizations struggle with in their BBS processes. In this issue, I thought I would share the results of this survey, and then use those data as the basis for the next several articles. more

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ten Years of Behavioral Game Design

When I wrote that article a decade ago, I was a psychology graduate student and amateur game designer who had never worked in the games industry. Since then, the article has run amok, living an almost completely independent existence in the wilds of the internet. It's been translated into multiple languages and assigned as homework. It's been cited by academics, pilloried by the Huffington Post, and even lampooned by my childhood favorite, Cracked magazine. And as anniversaries tend to do, the 10 year anniversary of this article has spurred a lot of reflection on my part. The industry has changed almost beyond recognition since 2001, and I'd like to take the opportunity to ruminate publicly about where this topic has gone in the past decade. Reinforcement learning has been acknowledged as a powerful force in game design: The biggest change is that it's hard to find a game today that doesn't take its reward structure seriously. At the time of the article, it was a radical idea to say that games contained rewards and that the way those rewards were allotted could affect how people played. Now it's simply a given. more

Thursday, June 14, 2012

B.F. Skinner: Why Today’s Businesses Need to Take a New Look

Anyone interested in self-improvement should read “The Perfected Self” by David H. Freedman in the current issue of The Atlantic. While the article details the successful weight management activities of the author’s brother, it goes into some detail about the science behind those weight loss programs that have proved to be the most successful over many years. It turns out that the science is based on the pioneering research of the much misunderstood and frequently maligned Harvard professor B.F. Skinner. Many of Skinner’s critics whom I have encountered in the past, to include college professors, have never read his work. Of course, that does not stop them from repeating and embellishing rumors about the man and his family. more

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Monkey Lip Smacks Provide New Insights Into the Evolution of Human Speech

Scientists have traditionally sought the evolutionary origins of human speech in primate vocalizations, such as monkey coos or chimpanzee hoots. But unlike these primate calls, human speech is produced using rapid, controlled movements of the tongue, lips and jaw. Speech is also learned, while primate vocalizations are mostly innately structured. New research published in Current Biology by W. Tecumseh Fitch, Head of the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna, supports the idea that human speech evolved less from vocalizations than from communicative facial gestures. more

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Power of Positive Feedback

Organizational psychologist Bruce Katcher says that one of the firmest psychological principles is that positive reinforcement increases the probability that a behavior will occur again in the future. “Without positive feedback, employees become unhappy, unmotivated, and unproductive,” he says. Katcher adds that instead of using praise to shape behavior, many supervisors use their comments to criticize, scold and berate employees. He believes a timely “Good work,” “Nice job” or other short form of praise can benefit the working relationship between the supervisor and employee. more

Monday, June 11, 2012

Parachuting Rodent Skinner Squad Training to Deploy to Sniff Out Landmines

"Some people think we are sending off rats to blow up mines, and that's absolutely not the case. The process is similar to how bomb-sniffing dogs are trained. We need to train the rats to regard that odor as significant by associating it with a food reward." Myers and his team trained rats to associate a vibration in the backpack with a food reward for good behavior, until the rat learns to seek out the vibration even after tidbits stopped coming. They are then trained to associate the vibration with finding and moving around the odor of explosive chemicals in the soil. The technique to train in this way uses legendary American behaviorist B.F Skinner's ideas about applying positive and negative reinforcement to train animal subjects. During WWII, Skinner developed a pigeon-guided missile system, with the bird trained to peck at the target, aiming a Pelican guided bomb at German shipping. But the project was dropped, a decision that Winston Churchill's chief scientific advisor described as regrettable. more

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Curious Case of Internet Privacy

The risks increase as we disclose more, something that the design of our social media conditions us to do. When you start out your life in a new social network, you are rewarded with social reinforcement as your old friends pop up and congratulate you on arriving at the party. Subsequent disclosures generate further rewards, but not always. Some disclosures seem like bombshells to you ("I'm getting a divorce") but produce only virtual cricket chirps from your social network. And yet seemingly insignificant communications ("Does my butt look big in these jeans?") can produce a torrent of responses. Behavioral scientists have a name for this dynamic: "intermittent reinforcement." It's one of the most powerful behavioral training techniques we know about. more

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Malign Hand of the Markets: What's The Matter With Wallstreet and How Do We Fix It?

Even after the global financial meltdown of 2008, economists have clung to Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” theory of an always self-regulating market that benefits private and public interests alike. But Duke University professor John Staddon is here to tell that there’s also another, darker force at work on Wall Street—a “Malign Hand” that guides all human interactions, including our finances. Combining psychology, behavioral economics, and other sciences, Staddon’s explosive new theory reveals the underlying principles behind the economic crisis, exposing the invisible mechanisms that drive our markets today. more

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Leslie Braksick: A Reason to Cheerlead

The idea of “evaluating performance,” or comparing one person’s actions with another’s, precedes time itself. However, the introduction of formal performance review processes traces back to the era of Frederick Winslow Taylor when time and motion studies and quotas were the subject of the renowned first efficiency expert. And the use of performance reviews to motivate people or map out career/development plans is a far more recent concept — and arguably one most companies still don’t have quite right. (And if we think “cheerleading” happens well within our company’s “performance review system”, then we are all in trouble!) I am not suggesting that we adopt a “cheerleading system of management.” But I continue to be struck by the power of positive reinforcement, in the form of praise, when it is received from someone who is trusted and respected. I continue to believe this is the single greatest, most underleveraged asset in most companies today. more

Monday, June 04, 2012

In Rat Experiment, New Hope for Spine Injuries

Rats with a spinal cord injury that left their hind legs completely paralyzed learned to walk again on their own after an intensive training course that included electrical stimulation of the brain and the spine, scientists reported on Thursday...The report, published online on Thursday in the journal Science, provides a striking demonstration of what until recently few scientists thought possible: complete rehabilitation after a disabling blow to the spinal cord. After weeks of training, many of the rats could walk as well as before the injury, and some could run. more

Friday, June 01, 2012

Not-So-Quick Fix: ADHD Behavioral Therapy May Be More Effective Than Drugs in Long Run

A new synthesis of behavioral, cognitive and pharmacological findings emerged at the recent Experimental Biology meeting, held last month in San Diego, where experts in ADHD research and treatment gathered to present their work. Their findings suggest that behavioral and cognitive therapies focused on reducing impulsivity and reinforcing positive long-term habits may be able to replace current high doses of stimulant treatment in children and young adults. more