Behavior Analysis: The Causes of Behavior

Why do some people love to cook while others much prefer to order take out? Why do some people love playing video games all day, while others preferring going outside? Why are some people incredibly productive while others struggle to stay focused and reach their goals?

Behavior analysis, a branch of psychology which has been around since the early 20th century, says that human behavior is a function of three intertwined variables: genetics, past experiences, and current conditions. 

Take Bob, for example. Bob is extroverted. Why? First, there are likely genetic influences that come into play. Maybe Bob has a genetic predisposition for social stimulation that leads him to seek out people and social interactions. 

Second, past experiences matter. Throughout his life, Bob has been fortunate to experience many great conversations when talking to others. As such, Bob’s positive social experiences have also contributed to his outgoing nature.

Finally, current conditions are also important.

Imagine Bob is at a party.

If there are several of Bob’s friends attending, Bob will likely be more engaged than he would be if he didn’t know anyone at all.  

While many factors affect his behavior, in short, genetics, past experiences, and current conditions ultimately influence his level of extroversion. These three variables play a significant role in who we are and what we do, and directly impact our good and bad behaviors. 

Of the three variables, behavior analysis tends to emphasize the current conditions, especially as it pertains to changing behavior—and for a good reason.

When it comes to making better choices and doing more “good” things—like exercising instead of being a couch potato—the only factor we have control over is our current conditions.

We cannot significantly change our genes (although really cool research in the area of epigenetics suggests that our experiences can actually turn certain genes off and on.) And we cannot change the experiences we’ve already had.

But what we can change is our current conditions.

For example, a person might be less likely to overeat if access to unhealthy foods is limited and more likely to exercise if she hits the gym with a friend who also wants to exercise.

Gale incorporates features that help users change their current conditions and, consequently, help them produce positive behavior change.

The ABC’s of Behavior Analysis

Behavior analysis is the science of behavior. One of its main themes is that the focus of both analysis and intervention should be observable behavior. Put simply, problems change when behavior changes. A person trying to lose weight can “think good thoughts” all day long, but real change comes only when the person changes the way he or she eats and exercises.

Fortunately, there’s an incredibly helpful framework that can be used to better understand (and change) your behavior. The three-term contingency (where “contingency” refers to a predictive relation between components) works to break down behavior into three components. For simplicity, we refer to it as “the ABCs.”

In the ABC framework:

A = Antecedent (the events that occur immediately before the behavior),

B = Behavior (the actions we are trying to understand or change), and

C = Consequence (the events that follow behavior).

The basic idea is that, in certain situations (antecedents), the behavior is followed by consequences. Depending on whether those consequences are good or bad, the behavior is more or less likely to be repeated the next time a person is in a similar situation. Negative punishment is a powerful behavior driver. 

For example, if a person is at a party (antecedent), approaches a stranger (behavior), and has a good conversation (presumably a good consequence), he will be more likely to approach strangers at parties in the future. 

Likewise, suppose while out with friends (antecedent), a person drinks more than she should (behavior) and experiences a nasty hangover the following morning (presumably a bad consequence). In that case, she might be less likely to overindulge the next time she is out with friends.

As you likely know first hand, changing your behavior can be incredibly challenging. Problem behaviors such as smoking and eating unhealthy can often seem impossible to stop. 

But with the right approach, you can break down your desired (or unwanted behavior) and simplify the process and increase your chances of success. The Gale app was built with the ABC framework in mind, with the goal of helping you easily understand your behavior and as well discover the most effective path to changing it.

Whether it’s making better food choices, spending more time studying, or practicing an instrument, Gale is designed to guide you through a scientifically validated process that has been shown to produce positive behavior change.

As we dig deeper into the science of behavior, we hope you continue to follow along in your quest to become happier, healthier, and more productive.