Understanding Behavior Science In Everyday Life (with Behavior Analyst, Caitlin Ball)

Understanding Behavior Science In Everyday Life Featured Image

Board Certified Behavior Analyst Caitlin Ball joins Erika Ng to discuss behavior science in everyday life. This episode is a great primer if you’re totally new to behavior analysis but also good for anyone who has been following the podcast and wants to know more about the basics of the science.

Interview Highlights:

  • Caitlin currently has a private practice in Vancouver, BC as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). She works on teaching social, academic, life skills and general adaptive behaviors to her clients through various behavioral teaching strategies. Sometimes she works with clients one-on-one, sometimes she’s supervising therapy teams, providing parent coaching or coaching teachers in school settings. [3:16]
  • In terms of how Caitlin became interested in behavior analysis, it started before she knew the field even existed. Analyzing behavior just sort of came naturally to her throughout her teen years and young adult life, specifically with how it fits into social relationships. [3:49]
  • During her undergraduate degree she got a job at a summer camp working one-to-one with a child with Autism. Although behavior analysis was not part of the programming, there was a supervising psychologist. [5:27]
  • Caitlin started analyzing behaviors and figured out how she can best support this person by changing some of the small environmental things around them or practicing things in a certain way so that the child could learn. [5:56]
  • Caitlin ended up changing career paths. At the age of 20, she had decided that she was going to be a child psychologist. However, as soon as she started working with kids with autism, behavior analysis just made so much sense to her. [6:14]

“If you can always think that there’s a good reason why someone does something, it’s a lot easier to be empathetic with them.” — Caitlin Ball

  • There are three main components that most people will talk about when they refer to analyzing behavior. First is an antecedent, which is anything that happens immediately before the behavior. Second is the behavior itself, which should always be really well-defined. Finally, the consequence is what happens after a behavior and it either makes the behavior more or less likely to occur in the future. [7:51]

“The consequences really do shape the behavior, and that’s something we always have to think about when we’re forming habits.” — Caitlin Ball

  • One thing that is particularly important in habit formation, which sometimes we don’t always talk about is setting events. These are factors at play that make a behavior more or less likely to occur under certain conditions or in other words, making the consequences of that behavior more or less valuable. When we don’t take setting events into account, a new habit can fall apart because there’s constantly things changing that make our reinforcement of that habit more or less valuable. [10:09]

“There are other things happening in your life that contribute to the value.” — Caitlin Ball

  • Caitlin talks about setting events and how they can contribute to behavior maintaining, or falling apart [13:12]

“If we want to create a habit that is sustainable we really need to make sure that we define the behavior properly.” — Caitlin Ball

  • It’s important to start small with habits and build on success, and only build when you’re prepared for that next step. If you start off with a routine to run an hour every day after never running, that is not a habit you’re going to form. It’s going to be a really uncomfortable experience and you’re not going to meet the reinforcement of feeling accomplished because it will be hard to even accomplish much running at all. [14:42]

“Start small. Find out what’s manageable for you, and then continue to build on that.” — Caitlin Ball

  • What’s reinforcing for one person is going to be different for someone else. [15:48]
  • Make sure that whatever behavior you’re trying to do, you need to reduce what is referred to as response effort. If it’s significantly harder to start this new routine than to not do it, you’re going to feel a lot of friction. There are a lot of strategies that you can put in place to reduce that friction and reduce the response effort [16:13]

“Reinforcement is just anything that increases a behavior.” — Caitlin Ball

  • There are two types of both reinforcement and punishment, positive and negative [19:00]
  • Positive reinforcement is adding something on to the situation as a consequence that later makes a behavior more likely to occur [19:07]
  • On the flip side, you can also have something removed and have that become reinforcing. This is negative reinforcement [20:08]
  • There are a lot of different ways that we incorporate reinforcement into our lives and it comes up a lot in our social relationships as well. [20:45]
  • Sometimes what you think of as a reinforcer is actually a punisher and what you think of as a punisher is actually a reinforcer. Reinforcers and punishers for each human are unique [22:04]
  • Punishment is anything that decreases a behavior. It’s not necessarily spanking or verbal reprimands or saying no to someone. These can be punishers but it’s whatever happens to decrease a behavior. [22:51]
  • Negative punishment is removing something to decrease the behavior instead of removing something to increase a behavior. [24:40]
  • The most interesting direction that the field can go in right now is making more systemic changes and using behavior analysis to look at things like prison reform. [26:52]
  • Caitlin uses the principles of behavior analysis in her everyday work. She looks at her own habits and behaviors through this lens to be more efficient as a professional. The daily activities of a behavior consultant can be so variable day to day so creating a routine is really difficult for her. She uses the principles of behavior to address this issue in her own life [32:34]
  • Caitlin makes sure that she’s meeting reinforcement on a very regular schedule in order to maintain some sense of routine [32:57]

“Every behavior has a purpose and there’s a function to it.” — Caitlin Ball

  • There’s an app called Fabulous that Caitlin recently found. It is all based in behavior science. The app helps you create very manageable goals for creating habits within specific daily routines. For example, it can help you build a morning routine that will set you up for success for the rest of your day. It was developed by researchers at Duke University. [36:01]
  • The best advice that Caitlin has ever received as a professional is, “every parent is doing their best”. [37:59]
  • Caitlin’s recommended internet resource is Everyday Speech. This is a platform with video models for teaching social skills and social-emotional development [38:38]

Guest Bio:

Caitlin Ball is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst located in Vancouver, BC. She loves to share behavior science in a way that is relatable for folks on a daily basis and is enthusiastic to share more about the ways behavior analysis is being applied outside of the field of autism. Caitlin is a graduate of the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she completed her Masters of Education. She has a private practice as a behavior consultant where she uses a hybrid model of in-person and telehealth to deliver behavior analytic services. 

“Majority of my social habits are probably informed by behavior analysis, either intentionally or unintentionally as behavior principles tend to work.”

— Caitlin Ball

Resources from this episode:

  • Connect with Caitlin on LinkedIn
  • Behaviorally-based habit-forming app for adults called Fabulous
  • For teaching social skills to young people, Caitlin recommends Everyday Speech
  • Live School (Attention, educators!). Great for tracking positive classroom behaviors and communicating expectations between teachers in different classrooms 
  • Book about human behavior patterns: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Related articles and podcasts:

We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.

Read the Transcript:

Erika Ng

Welcome to Behavioral Health Collective podcast. A community of behavior analysts who are passionate about sharing evidence-based practices from the perspective of behavior science. We connect families and educators to information that promotes robust behavioral health in the home, community, and classroom.

We are behavioral health practitioners who empower parents and caregivers by sharing behavioral resources that are current and evidence-based. 

At the Behavioral Health Collective, we set families and educators up for success by promoting meaningful and lasting behavioral health and skill development in the children or young people they work with.

Thanks for tuning in. I’m Erika Ng, the founder of Behavioral Health Collective. Do you ever wonder why as humans we do the things we do? Why is it so hard to get a workout routine going, but easy to make a habit of going for happy hour with colleagues after work? Why is it so hard to create a meal prep routine, or really easy to create a take-out habit on Fridays?

The science of human behavior is all around us every day and every moment of our lives. Well yes, there certainly are complex factors in why we do what we do. There are also some simple principles of behavior that apply to all of us on a regular basis. It’s the same principles that help us build a new habit, create a new routine with our families or teach students a new skill. But also to slowly give up on a healthy habit, continue an unhealthy habit, or create a course of cycles at our families. 

Today, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Caitlin Ball will be joining me to discuss behavior science in everyday life. In a lot of these examples just mentioned, she’s really excited about sharing behavior science in a way that’s relatable for people on a daily basis. And she’s so enthusiastic to share more about the ways behavior analysis is being applied outside of the field of autism. If you ever wondered why you seem like you might fall into certain habits, or out of others, or why we do what we do, Caitlin will certainly be sharing with us more about those basic principles of behavior science that underpin those day-to-day behaviors.

This episode is a great primer if you’re totally new to learning about behavior analysis, but also good for anyone who’s been following the podcast for a while, and maybe who wants to know more about the basics of behavior analysis. So I hope you enjoyed the show, would love to hear some feedback, and here is Caitlin Ball, Behavior Analyst.

Good morning Caitlin, how are you? 

Caitlin Ball

I’m good. How are you Erika?

Erika Ng

Great. Thank you so much for joining me today. I’ve really been looking forward to this conversation because I think since you mentioned it, I think it’s having a nice general topic for people to really dig into Everyday ABA is super exciting, so thank you so much for joining me. 

Caitlin Ball

Yeah. I’m so glad that I’m able to share this topic with everyone. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. I’m really hoping this episode will kind of serve as a nice primer or intro for to behavior analysis where people so.

Caitlin Ball

Much appreciate that. 

Erika Ng

So, without further ado let’s get into the questions I suppose.

So I think just for starters, so listeners can kind of understand who you are a little bit and give some context. Could you just share about what you currently do as a behavior analyst and then also how you got interested in behavior analysis and what it looks like in everyday life specifically, and kind of what about that hooked you in?

Caitlin Ball

Yeah, sure. So, I currently have a private practice as a behavior analyst, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. And I work on teaching Social Academic, Life Skills, General Adaptive Behaviors to my clients through various forums. So sometimes I work with them one-on-one, sometimes I’m supervising therapy teams providing parent coaching or coaching to teachers in school settings.

And the vast majority of my clients are on the spectrum but a lot of them also have secondary diagnoses. So ADHD, anxiety, or some other various language processing disorders are the most common ones. 

In terms of how I became interested in behavior analysis. I would say it really started before I knew the field even existed. So analyzing behavior just sort of came naturally to me throughout my teen years and young adult life you know, specifically with how it fits into social relationships. So, you know, I wasn’t creating activity routines as a child that was not my forte at all but I did really use it in order to navigate the social world.

So, you know, just like everyone else, I was trying to predict what other people were doing, what was motivating them to do what they were doing. You know, if it’s a bullying situation, figuring out what’s reinforcing their behavior and how can I not do that? You know, if it’s avoiding a conflict with a friend, figuring out what is triggering this conflict and how can I change the environment so that conflict doesn’t need to occur, right?

And adjusting my behavior in order to, you know, make for better social relationships with people. And you know, also noticing that if I’m acting inappropriate in a certain context, why did I do that? Why did I suddenly do this thing that doesn’t meet my values and how can I change the environment and change my own behavior system?

So that’s sort of how I really got into it, just asking why, trying to see what was going on and then testing my theories. So if I thought I found a system that was going to work, I would test it out. And if it worked and reduce that conflict, I was like, Oh cool that’s totally all they needed. They just needed a reinforcement and this way, or, you know, if I remove this type of trigger for them, then that’s not going to come up anymore.

So, that’s sort of how I got interested in it initially. But in terms of actually knowing what behavior analysis was that started in my undergrad career. So I got a job at a summer camp working one-to-one with a child with autism. And initially there wasn’t a ton of behavior analysis although there was a psychologist supervising. I just got very general strategies to work with this kid but it clicked very quickly and then you know summer after summer, as I continued to work with this client, I got sort of more and more behavioral strategies added on. And I got to understand the analysis component of it, and I was able to start analyzing those behaviors and figure out, you know, how can I best support this person by changing some of these small environmental things around us or practicing things in a certain way so that he learns them in a in a new way. 

So, yeah, that really sort of got me into it, and then I ended up changing career paths. Really, I was going to be a, you know, at the age of 20, I had decided that I was going to be a child psychologist. But you know, as soon as I started working with kids with autism, I was just like, you know, behavior analysis just makes so much sense to me. And I sort of fell in love with it right away. 

Erika Ng

That’s incredible ’cause it sounds like you were thinking like a behavior analyst like those are great examples from your childhood. So you’re thinking like a behavior analyst at a very early age, which is amazing. So you found your calling certainly. 

That’s very cool and I love those examples of social situations and how behavior analysis applies to all of us in everyday life. So especially socially that’s very applicable. 

Caitlin Ball

So yeah, I think it really sort of just weaves into every part of life. And I think it helps at least for me and my experience behavior analysis makes me a more compassionate person overall, if you can always think that there’s a good reason why someone does something, it’s a lot easier to be empathetic with them.

Erika Ng

That is such a valuable point, yeah, absolutely. 

So thinking about how we understand behavior and you know, thinking about some of your examples there, how our behavior is established by what’s going on in our environment and our interactions there. Let’s start with the basic so listeners can kind of understand that.

So how do we as humans build new habits or behaviors? And what are some principles that are at play in habit or skill development of some sort kind of in our everyday lives? What are some ways we can kind of perceive that around us? 

Caitlin Ball

Yeah. So that’s there’s so many different layers to that, but I will start off with sort of the three main pillars that you know, most people will talk about when they refer to behavior analysis.

Anytime that we are looking at a behavior and we’re analyzing it, and deciding how to predict it. There’s three main components, so we have our antecedent, which happens before the behavior. We have the behavior itself, which, you know, should always be really well-defined in order to make sure that’s, what’s actually changing. And then the consequence. So this is what happens afterwards that either makes the behavior more likely to occur in the future or less likely to occur in the future. 

So for the listeners that are less familiar with behavior analysis I’ll use the example of answering a phone call, right? So you have your antecedent, which is the phone ringing or vibrating. And then you have a number pop up on the screen, let’s say it’s your best friend. So you see the antecedent, your behavior is likely that you’re going to answer it and the consequences that you have a really nice chat, you get some more information from them. Maybe you’re laughing a little bit, and that makes you more likely to answer the phone call and their number shows up, right?

So, that’s one of those things where we’re always answering phones, you know, behavior principles are always at play. Other components that are really important to consider using that same example is that the consequences really do shape the behavior. And that’s something we always have to think about when we’re forming habits. ’cause it’s going to change our behavior, whether we know it or not. For example, I used to answer my phone all the time regardless of what the number was. I was always answering it about two or three years ago but then over time I started getting all these calls saying that, you know, I was going to be arrested because of like CRA issues.

And it was always a scam call and I was getting like four a day, and it really punished my behavior, it was a really awful experience. And every time I was rolling my eyes afterwards, I was just like I, it is not worth picking up my phone to an unknown number. So it changed my behavior. So now we have a bit of what we would refer to as discrimination training, where you know, if it’s a familiar number, I answer. If it’s an unfamiliar number, I don’t answer, right?

This can apply to any routine in your day, whether it’s answering the phone or answering the doorbell or, you know, talking to a specific person in real life. It always applies one thing that I think is particularly important in habit formation, which sometimes we don’t always talk about is setting events.

So although we have the three main antecedent behavior consequence, we always have these things called setting events that really need to be considered. And I think for habit formation, it’s the setting events that when we don’t take them into account can make a habit fall apart, right? Because there’s constantly things changing that make our reinforcement more or less valuable.

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Caitlin Ball

So with a phone call for example yeah, I don’t answer unknown numbers, but if the conditions change. The conditions are setting events or things that aren’t necessarily happening immediately before the behavior, right? There are other things happening in your life that contribute to the value.

If I’m expecting a package from Amazon, suddenly the antecedent of an unknown number, I’m answering it all the time. 

Erika Ng

Right. 

Caitlin Ball

You know, I might answer seven unknown numbers that day, because I’m expecting a package. It’s totally changed my behavior from unknown numbers And likewise, you know, if I’m feeling really sick, if I didn’t get a lot of sleep and I see my friend’s phone number pop up, and we always have an hour conversation, I might not answer because I don’t have the energy for it.

So the antecedent is the same, the consequence would be the same, but it’s not as valuable anymore. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. Those are really great relatable examples in everyday life. Yeah. 

Caitlin Ball

Yeah. Yeah. It’s just and you can apply to anything, you know. I always recommend anyone listening to this to then try and see if you can fit those four terms into anything going on in your life because it really does apply to each, each scenario. 

Erika Ng

Absolutely. And I like you mentioned there as well about you know, use the term consequence, but you gave both positively what would be perceived as positive and negative. So when we talk about consequences, we’re not necessarily talking about, you know, that colloquial way of a parent may say, like, I’m going to give you a consequence to their child.

And it always means a negative thing, you gave that great example of a consequence being a really nice conversation with your best friend. Can also be an outcome you know, whatever follows the behavior, so kind of using as a technical term of consequences. So thank you for those you know, giving examples on both sides there.

So what about losing? Well, I guess you did kind of give an example there, but if we’re going to drop a behavior habit, or why do we lose habits that maybe we are kind of on a roll with and we’ve been able to establish a little bit. Why does it seem like we once were motivated? To do something and we’ve tried and tried to make it a habit, but then it falls apart.

What are some factors at play, I guess, behaviorally that, that happens?

Caitlin Ball

Yeah. Great question. So, this is something that everyone struggles with, you know, if we were able to keep every good habit we ever created, we would be superheroes. 

Erika Ng

Right.

Caitlin Ball

You know, just the most productive the most social, the most driven. But we’re not, most of us aren’t, there are some select for you, brilliant minds out there that are able to do all these different things, but usually something falls apart at some point. 

I talked a bit about setting events and how that can really contribute to behavior maintaining, or falling apart if you’re not considering it. But those four terms that I mentioned before are still just sort of like the skeleton of behavior and there’s a lot of other things that we need to focus on with the behavior piece. And that has a lot of different layers you know, so if we want to create a habit that is sustainable we really need to make sure that one did we define the behavior properly. So, you know, if you want to do a workout routine or to think it’s one of those habits, all of us are picking up and putting back down over time. It’s great to have that well-defined. What is a workout for you? Is it 20 minutes? Is it 60 minutes? Is it running? Is it lifting weights? Is it going on a hike? Is it rock climbing? Right? 

There’s 101 different ways to do it but it needs to be well-defined and you need to get there slowly and you need to make sure that you’re building on success. So going back to the skeleton of having reinforcement, if you accomplish your goal and you’re someone who gets that little endorphin rush or gets that serotonin hit from saying I did it, right? And you are able to check it off your list, you know, checking things off are really reinforcing for me. 

Erika Ng

Oh yes, me as well. 

Caitlin Ball

If you’re able to do that every single time, then you’re more likely to do it the next time, right? Because the reinforcement of accomplishment, and the reinforcement of checking it off your list and saying, I did it. And then telling other people that you did it, and whatever reinforcement is do you have your meeting it?

So it’s important to start small with habits and build on success, and only build when you’re prepared for that next step. You know, if I start off with a routine to run an hour every day after never running, that is not a habit I’m going to form. Yeah, it’s just not it’s going to be a really uncomfortable experience for one, and I’m not going to meet the reinforcement of feeling accomplished, checking it off my list. It’s just not going to, it’s not going to happen. So start small. Find out what’s manageable for you and then continue to build on that. 

Erika Ng

That’s great. Like I liked the you mentioned the setting events earlier, and thinking about that you know, what makes it more valuable or not to succeed. And make that reinforcement of those consequences more or less valuable, but then also thinking about, am I putting reinforcement into my routine? Am I meeting that reinforcement? Like you said or am I falling short and then it’s not reinforcing or am I choosing something that I think is reinforcing to myself, but if it’s not helping you form that habit, then maybe it’s not actually reinforcing. So I think those are great examples that you brought up.

Caitlin Ball

Yeah. And what’s reinforcing for one person is going to be so different for someone else, right? You know, I for one, you know, something that keeps me motivated to work out as if I have a buddy system and whether it’s on zoom or in person, I get a 15-minute chat with that person that I really enjoy spending time with at the end of the workout and that’s really valuable to me. 

But for other people, they may really not like doing that. They’re exhausted at the end of a workout, they do not have the resources to talk to someone. And that’s not gonna work for them, so, yeah, knowing what the reinforcement is starting small and the one other thing that I would add into that is making sure that whatever behavior trying to do you’re going to want to reduce what we refer to as response effort.

So, you know, if it’s significantly harder to start this new routine than to not do it, you’re going to get a lot of friction. And a lot of pushback from your environment to complete this, and there’s a lot of strategies that you can put in place to reduce that friction, right? So this is another one with eating healthier, getting chips is so much easier than spending 15 minutes making a salad.

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Caitlin Ball

It’s just facts of life you know, so knowing about those things and saying, okay, well, if I want to have a salad for lunch, instead of chips, I’ll make it the night before. So the friction in the moment when I have to make this choice is equal, right? It’s not harder to make a salad, just as easy to take it out of the fridges it is to get my chips, right? 

One that I can’t remember where I heard it, but one for working out, which I really liked is that someone would fall asleep in their workout clothes, so it was more effort to change out of their workout clothes than it was to just work out right away. And I love that example.

Erika Ng

That’s great. 

Caitlin Ball

That just sort of sets you up for success. Yeah, which is just really a nice way to do it. Yeah. 

Erika Ng

And that’s a great, I like the way you phrased that actually like if we’re thinking about reducing, you know, as we might technically say reduce the response effort reducing the friction.

I love that. That’s such a great everyday way to say that you’re thinking about what is less challenging or at least equal, equally as challenging as engaging in the behavior we don’t want to do. But at least matching that if not making it easier, so reducing the friction. That’s great. 

Caitlin Ball

Yeah. 

Erika Ng

So you just spoke a bit about reinforcement and consequences and such.

So let’s also talk a bit about you know, reinforcement, and then the flip side of punishment. And just before you get into that, just for listeners, I’ll be really clear that when we talk, when we’re talking about punishment, we’re not talking about what we necessarily think as punitive. Or in everyday language of a verse, if things like a verbal reprimand from one person to another or removal of privileges or something like that, it can be those things.

But I just want to say, you know, so listeners understand that we’re talking about a technical term that means whatever that consequences, the behavior goes down versus increasing behavior. Like we’ve talked about eating salad, that’s increasing behavior or working out increase that behavior, but we’re talking about punishment makes the behavior go down or reduced.

So if we’re gonna be talking about that, can you describe a little bit about how reinforcement and punishment might show up in our everyday lives with some other examples there? 

Caitlin Ball

Yeah, for sure. So as you said, reinforcement is just anything that increases a behavior. So, we have sort of two streams that are important to know about both for reinforcement and punishment, but there’s two different ways that we can get reinforcement.

So there’s the positive reinforcement, so we’re adding that thing on as you said or you can remove something to make something reinforcing, right? So, you know, an example of adding something on to after a behavior in order to make it reinforcing, if you tell a joke and someone laughs, right? Their laughter as being added into that situation, their laughter is the addition that is reinforcing.

And then you’re more likely to tell that same joke to the next friend that you see, right? Or maybe that becomes an ongoing inside joke that you repeat over and over with that person, right? It’s really increasing your behavior because they laugh same thing if someone compliments your cooking at a family gathering, that compliment was added after the behavior. And you might be much more likely to either make that same dish or to make more dishes for your family because it was really reinforcing for you to get that compliment. You know, and it can also be something that’s more internal, right? So I drink coffee every morning because there’s added energy, it is really reinforcing to have my seventh or eighth cut by noon. 

You know, that’s really great. And then on the flip side, you can also have something removed and have that become reinforcing. So, for example, you say thank you more often, which is the behavior to avoid conflicts with your partner, right?

So you’re trying to avoid something that’s reinforcing your thank you behavior or setting out your child’s clothes the night before to avoid the amount of time you need to spend helping them in the morning, right? So you’re increasing their independence, you’re increasing the behavior of setting out their clothes, to avoid more prep time in the morning you know, or sharing more during conversations to avoid awkward silences, right? 

So there’s a lot of different ways that we incorporate reinforcement and it’s it comes up a lot in social relationships as well. You know, so much of how we interact is just based on, did we get something from that interaction or are we trying to avoid a particular type of interaction? And you know, reinforcement works in both of those directions.

Erika Ng

Yeah, I think those are great examples. And like you said earlier, that reinforcement has so much to depend, sorry, it depends on much on the person themselves and you know, maybe seeing something in public for someone and getting attention is actually punishing for somebody. They don’t like that social attention or other people they love it and they tell a joke and they get tons of attention and love it. So, yeah, I think that’s a great point because there’s so many everyday situations, moment to moment we can think, you know, is that reinforcing or was that punishment for me and 

Caitlin Ball

Yeah, and I feel that for I mean, by and large, you know, the reason that we are their social standards is because as humans, we usually tap into this, right? 

And we all are able to for the most part to a degree, read other people and identify what’s reinforcing them or what’s punishing them and we change our behavior. And that’s why we become closer to certain people, because we remove the things that are upsetting to them and we add in reinforcement. And sort of where behavior analysts come in, is just as you said, sometimes what you think is a reinforcer is actually a punisher and what you think is a punisher is actually a reinforcer. So, you know, often when you have someone come in or you’re hiring someone to come in, it’s when the intuitive answer isn’t there. There’s something that’s misaligned that now it’s hard to figure out, because by and large you know, as humans, we identify these antecedents and reinforcers without knowing it. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Now I’m thinking a little bit about, well, we’ve kind of talked about punishment, but could you maybe now, and you gave some great examples for reinforcement. Could you also give some examples for punishment and what that can look like? So what makes behaviors go down and how does that look different for different humans?

Caitlin Ball

Yeah, great. So, same thing punishment is just anything that decreases the behaviors. So there’s no one thing, it’s not spanking or verbal reprimands or saying no to someone. It’s just, whatever happens to decrease your behavior, really, and it depends on the environment, so positive punishment is when you’re adding something to make a behavior decrease. So going back to a humor example, this might be someone’s offended response to a joke. 

So the behavior is the same, but instead of that person laughing, maybe they scowl at you. Or maybe they say like that was really inappropriate, and that’s going to reduce that particular joke behavior, right? 

Maybe you try it out on a couple other people and you get the same response each time, it’s going to keep going down, it’s going to keep going down. So that’s the other thing to remember. Any sort of consequence, reinforcement and punishment. Sometimes it is a one and done, but often you need to meet that multiple times to actually change the behavior. And for habit formation again, that’s important to know because you can’t just be reinforced once a lot of the time and be like, cool. I have this habit for the rest of my life, you know, it’s really building over time. Sorry bit of a tangent, but other positive punishment. Yeah. 

Erika Ng

That makes sense.

Caitlin Ball

Yeah so other things that might be added on is, you know, if you get the additional feeling of being sick after eating some bad sushi, right? That’s going to punish that behavior. And again, often with food diversion, it is a one and done type of situation, but maybe you go back to that restaurant and try some different menu options. And then you meet that same punisher of, you know, the added feeling of being sick and so over time you stopped going. Or a friend rolls their eyes when you complained to them, so you slowly complained to them less and less. Yeah, so those are of the positive punishments it can be really anything for negative punishment, same as negative reinforcement. You’re removing something, right? So this time you’re removing something to decrease the behavior instead of removing something to increase that behavior. 

So for example, if you’re talking about, let’s say The Real Housewives of New Jersey to your husband and he walks away, that might be really punishing him removing himself is punishing, right? And so you’ve lost the stimulus, you’ve lost this person in conversation. So maybe you keep trying to bring it up because it’s really interesting for you to talk about, but when he keeps walking away time after time, you’re like, maybe I’m not going to talk about this particular show with him anymore in it and it punishes that behavior. 

And this can again, in other social contexts if you make a very opinionated comment and people are removing their attention from you and maybe they turn and talk to someone else. And just they had a blank stare they’re not giving you any feedback in terms of, you know, adding that was inappropriate. But maybe there’s turn away and they talk to someone else, and that’s going to punish that opinionated comment. If it’s punishing for you, of course, depends on the person in this particular scenario that might be punishing for you. 

Erika Ng

I love those examples. I love the social examples because I think we can all we can all relate to those and it’s happening day to day. It’s not even you know, parent to child or partner to partner, it can be you know, with friends and coworkers, you know, it’s in any, any situation we can see these social examples happening. 

Caitlin Ball

That’s right. 

Erika Ng

So moving on a little bit now, we’ve thought about how behavior analysis applies in our day-to-day lives, especially these social situations.

Now, what are some, shifting gears a bit what are some novel applications right now of ABA that are outside of that realm of autism that are, you’re finding really interesting right now? And kind of promising for the growth of the field, I suppose, an applications of behavior analysis. 

Caitlin Ball

Yeah. So, I mean, there’s so many, there’s so many different applications, right?

You know, part of behavior analysis being in everyday life is it sort of applies to pretty much anything in terms of making systemic changes. And I think that’s the most interesting direction that the field can go in right now, is making more systemic changes and using behavior analysis to look at things like prison reform. You know, how can we look at the antecedents and the behaviors and the consequences and the setting events.

To help these prisoners you know, turn their lives around, be fully reforms that when they go back into the community. They’re able to live productive, fulfilled lives and not potentially fall into situations that could be problematic for them again. You know, also applying behavior analysis for any at-risk communities in schools.

So, you know, before we get into this awful cycle of sometimes these at-risk communities are getting filtered through the prison system start early on, and, you know, figure out okay, what setting event is causing all of these antecedents to cause this particular behavior? With this whole community of people and being able to change that could make a huge difference in society and specifically in the lives of those individuals who, because of the setting events, they are surviving the best way that they can and unfortunately it might be in congruent with the law, so, you know, it’s always important to consider those. 

Another one, which is sort of in a different direction. But looking at environmentally conscious behavior, you know, and how can we use 

Erika Ng

That’s really interesting one. 

Caitlin Ball

Yeah. Using applied behavior analysis for that and thinking about, you know, how can we shape people’s behavior by looking at what’s currently triggering non environmentally conscious behavior? How can we switch that to cue the conscious behavior and what’s going to be reinforcing it, and this is something that I noticed actually, as soon as I moved to Vancouver because it’s so environmentally conscious here compared to where I grew up. 

And you can see the cues everywhere, and I can very clearly see this system of you know, yeah, I got my coffee. So now I have some things for the paper recycling, some things for the plastic recycling and then potentially some garbage as well, depending on how I got that coffee. And you have all these visual cues, which are your antecedent to throw things away and they’re staggered in a way that can sitters response effort.

Erika Ng

Right. 

Caitlin Ball

So you’re able to throw away things easier and I noticed in my own behavior. If I’m at a park that doesn’t have that trash system I go through a short battle internally of do I really want to carry this in my backpack all the way home, and then sort it in my own recycling, right? And by considering that response effort in a city-wide system, you can really change that behavior and say, well, if we put it at every single park, they’re not just going to throw it out in the trash.

And then there’s the social pressure of when it becomes really normal, you could be punished for just throwing it in the garbage, because you have people saying, why are you doing that? There’s recycling right there and you get a whole system going. So, you know, applying that in so many different. 

Erika Ng

Yeah.

Caitlin Ball

Direction. Yeah

Erika Ng

Like society level, a group population level. Yeah, examples yeah. It’s really exciting actually that this, the behavior science can apply it to groups of people really. And I mean and also down to the individual level of you doing your recycling but yeah, it is really exciting that grand scale I suppose. Now thinking about your personal habits and behaviors, is there anything that you have established in your own life, using behavior analytic principles, would you say? 

Caitlin Ball

Definitely. So I would say that’s majority of my social habits are probably informed by behavior analysis. Either intentionally or unintentionally as behavior principles tend to work so I guess socially you know, I’m trying to apply ABA right now and to specific social goals that I have, right? 

So, especially with like Zoom fatigue and all these other things going on I’ve noticed that my own behavior has changed. Where sometimes I’m not fully attending to a conversation anymore, right? And that’s one of those behaviors where, it doesn’t really align with my own values. I would really like to be able to attend to each word someone is saying so, you know, right now I’m trying to fit that into a behavior analysis model and change it. So thinking about you know, what is my goal and setting that as, well I want to be able to maintain that say a two hours zoom conversation with a friend and not mind wander.

You know, and I set that goal because I know with the rules of setting events that it’s going to be impossible for me to just set a goal of I will pay attention to a hundred percent of words. A hundred percent of time, regardless of how much sleep I got the night before, regardless of if I just finished work, you know, I need to think about all those things.

So, you know, setting the school of you know, when I’m in the right frame of mind and all my setting events are aligning. When this person’s talking going to pay attention, and if I notice that I mind wandering, I need a strategy, right? I need a new behavior to keep me on track, so reiterating to someone what they just said so I can make sure my brain processes it and using that as a cue to get me closer to my two hour goal. Let’s say.

Erika Ng

Right. 

Caitlin Ball

And then the consequences that I get to be in the loop at the conversation, I don’t accidentally say something that I should have had more information about, and then I have to backtrack, right? So there’s tons of reinforcement systems going on and in that particular situation, a lot of it is negative reinforcement. I’m trying to avoid the situation of saying something and then being a little embarrassed, because I’m like, Oh, that doesn’t actually align with the one word that they said in the previous sentence that I missed that was really key to this information or to this comment that I was going to say so, yeah. So in terms of social that’s one of the things that I think I’m using behavior analysis for at the moment. 

Another one that I usually do is just in terms of my work setup, I also use some principles of behavior analysis. So, you know, Especially in my line of work, I have a lot of staggered appointments work I’m going in person. And then there’s a lot of paperwork in between and no two days look the same. So creating a routine is really difficult for me.

Erika Ng

Right. 

Caitlin Ball

So one of the things that I’ve focused on is thinking about, okay, well, I need to make sure that I’m meeting reinforcement on a very regular schedule in order to maintain some sense of routine and some sense of habitual habits. 

So if I have, let’s say 20 admin tasks to do for the week I will actually write out which ones I’m going to do on Monday, which ones I’m doing on Tuesday, which ones on Thursday, what’s on Friday. And you know, managing all of it between these different appointments,  because to finish Monday and say, okay, I got these four tasks done and I can check it off and say, yes, I did it today. I accomplished all of my goals and now I get to go, you know, make dinner or talk to my partner or whatever it is. That’s really reinforcing for me. But I noticed early on like an undergrad as well If I just had 20 tasks and I didn’t structure them into the week, at the end of Monday, even if I did the same amount of work, just saying, Oh my gosh, I have 16 more things to do. I’ve no idea how I’m going to get this done it wasn’t reinforcing and I would just sort of get overwhelmed. So, breaking it down into a system where I meet reinforcement regularly for accomplishing my tasks. It’s just one way that I’ve, I incorporated that into my daily life. 

Erika Ng

That’s great. Yeah, both of those are so, so typical, applicable, like for work, but also the social.

Yeah. Now you have very thoughtfully structured this together, do you have any resources for families or individuals? I suppose ’cause we’re talking about all kinds of examples, but if they are interested in learning more about practical applications of ABA in their daily life and how to use behavior analysis?

Caitlin Ball

Yeah. So I think the first one that I would recommend the environment is honestly, sort of your greatest tool. You know, if you’re able to sort of process all the different components and think about your setting events and your antecedents and your behaviors and your consequences apply that into your environment as much as you can or set aside time to really analyze the characters in your favorite TV show. You know, some of the idiosyncrasies that your partner has watching your child and figuring out why does this thing always trigger this behavior, but not this one, right? And why did they you know, clean their room and I asked yesterday, but they’re not cleaning it today. What setting event changed and really starting to look at all these different things. You know, why was the candy effective today, but it’s not effective yesterday. 

You know, and really starting to get to a point where you’re thinking compassionately, you’re asking that why you’re understanding that every behavior has a purpose and there’s a function to it. And making sure that you can predictably predict someone’s behavior, right? You know, ’cause we can always predict something once or twice, but if we can do it reliably, then that shows that we really understand which components are in play and what exactly is going on for that person or for yourself if you’re changing your own behavior. Yeah, so I think an environment would be the first one, 

in terms of a more tangible answer specifically with habit formation. There’s actually an app that I found recently, which is all based in behavior science which is just so cool as a behavior and listeners. But it’s a site called Fabulous.

So, in this app it helps you create very manageable goals for creating habits and it can separate them for you into your morning routine, and it helps you build a morning routine that will set you up for success for the rest of your day. And then, you know, you can slowly go into creating afternoon routines and night routines, and it’s all based in behavior science and behavior analysis. 

Erika Ng

Wow, that’s so cool. 

Caitlin Ball

So considering things like what’s your reinforcer, considering things like response effort considering things like, what’s going to cue that behavior. Can you create a chain where as soon as you see your coffee machine, you start up your coffee and then you take your vitamins. But you’re also going to drink water, which is another goal because you have to take those vitamins and then, you know, and how can you create it in a way where you get to a point where your habit is no longer thoughtful?

Erika Ng

Right.

Caitlin Ball

It’s just, it’s the same as breathing, you’re just go through this whole thing and it makes it very fluid and it tells you why you should do each thing. And it tells you why you should slow down and build up slowly to make sure that you don’t get overwhelmed and drop your habits. So, 

Erika Ng

And what’s it called?

Caitlin Ball

I would highly recommend that. It’s called Fabulous. 

Erika Ng

Okay, great. 

Caitlin Ball

So it was created by some researchers it’s created by researchers at Duke University, I believe. 

Erika Ng

Okay. 

Caitlin Ball

Yeah, so it’s a really great tool. Yeah. 

Erika Ng

I’m gonna check that out myself, that sounds fascinating. I find apps. Yeah. I mean, we have our smartphones around all the time, so an app can be a great way to cue behavior, just notifications and such, and if our phones with us, they can guide us. That sounds also quite individualized considering it’s an app. So that’s amazing, very cool. 

Now, before we wrap up, I just had a couple other quick questions for you, so, to just three things, so first of all, what is the best advice you have ever received?

Caitlin Ball

I would say, every parent is doing their best. 

Erika Ng

That’s great. Yeah. That is so important, I think for us as practitioners to keep in mind, and I really love how you mentioned earlier that understanding that there’s a reason behind every behavior has made you more compassionate. I think that links in really nicely with that, that everybody is trying their best and there’s a reason for everything.

And we don’t need to force things or be judgemental about it, we can just try to understand what’s going on. In a compassionate manner. What about a resource, I guess you just mentioned the Fabulous app, but what about a concrete, any other like resource or internet resource or book or tool that you’d recommend for families?

Caitlin Ball

Yeah, so have you ever used Everyday Speech, that website?

Erika Ng

I have, yes. 

Caitlin Ball

Yes. I am a huge fan of Everyday Speech specifically for their social skills videos, which have just been a total game changer during the pandemic in terms of helping some of my clients work on social skills. So this resource, the reason that I love it so much is they explain the social roles that you’re going to be learning about in that video. 

And then they go through a role-play of what happens when you violate the social role and what happens when you follow the social role. So you can see the two routes and then using this in conjunction with a real life role play, with a client really helps solidify that because then they can see it, they can watch the model and then they can act it out and you can get them to that point where it’s very fluent for them to engage in those behaviors. Yeah.

Erika Ng

Yeah. I think w what I love about those videos is that when they pause it and they annotate the video as well, sometimes it’s like a thought bubble to show what that person’s thinking. So it’s not just, yeah. A video model. It’s like a video model plus, because it has all those explanations on there, which is really nice.

And like you mentioned the example and then what not to do as well. How about a book? Do you have any books that you’d recommend for families? 

Caitlin Ball

So I would say so much of my environment question or answer before I think the best book for parents to look through is actually their own journals. Again, going back to, I mean, there’s a thousand different books out there, depending on what parents are looking for. And I think any book that comes from an autistic voice is always really helpful for understanding their child. But I think for understanding your own child going back through journals that you’ve written and looking at, you know, maybe if you wrote about a really difficult interaction with your child going back and saying, can I look at this now through a behavioral lens?

And can I figure out what actually caused this behavior? What is, what setting events were going on? Did we have a birthday party earlier that day? And there was a sugar crash happening was, you know, there an issue with the reinforcement had I promise them something and then I didn’t end up delivering it and I just didn’t think about it.

So going through and actually trying to analyze, what happened and all those scenarios, because 2020 is, or hindsight is 2020. And I think that can be a really valuable tool that you can then use with your specific family, your specific child in the future. 

Erika Ng

Amazing. 

Caitlin Ball

’cause every child’s going to be different.

Erika Ng

Yeah. Yeah. That’s wow, that’s a fantastic idea. I love that advice. Just as a thought to reconsider it in the behavioral lens and asking that why question because that really is what we do as behavior analysts is trying to understand why through that behavioral lens. 

So thank you so much, Caitlin. I think you’ve provided so many interesting, super applicable practical examples from everyday life for anybody that we can all relate to, especially those social examples. So thank you so much for kind of just talking about behavior analysis and using behavior science, and day-to-day life and understanding the world around us and our own behaviors through that lens.

So thank you so much. 

Caitlin Ball

Thank you so much for having me, Erika.

The comments and views expressed in this podcast do not constitute or replace contractual behavior, analytic consultation, or professional advice. Views expressed are solely the perspective of the speaker and do not represent the views or position of their colleagues, employer, or other associates.

Please seek out a behavior analyst through BACB website if you’d like to receive further behavior consultation. Until next time. Take care.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *