You are on page 1of 3

LESSON

Definitions of Everyday Behaviors


You will learn in this lesson the first tactic in solving
human problems by using the behavioral strategy. The
first tactic in using the behavioral $ strategy is to develop
a behavioral definition ofr\ the problem. You may help
people solve a problem with this tactic alone. It will focus
their at- tention on their behavior rather than on inner
causes. But that doesnt mean that you will be
restricted to superficial or trivial problems. Indeed,
behavior is not a trivial or superficial aspect of human
conduct; it is all of human conduct. You can apply the
idea of|behavioi\to everything that people do. You can
define everything that people do and every problem
that people have in terms of behavior.
When you learn how to define problems in terms of
behavior, you will realize that many vague terms, such
as bad attitude, ultimately refer to behaviors. You wm
seethat self-reports such as questionnaires and
interviews usually do not let you get accurate
information about behaviors. The
alternative is to use the principle of direct obser-
Tvation.\The great value of studying behavior is that
it permits direct observation, which is the most
important tool in changing behavior.
What Is Behavior?
Behavior analysts study behavior. However, many
students of human behavior believe that studying only
behavior leaves out the most interesting human
phenomena. They believe that behavior analysis deals
with only trivial and mechanical aspects of human
activity. So that you won't think that focusing on
behavior is limiting, I will start by^hnwing you what
behavior analysts mean by behaviorJ
llehavior is anything that a person does (cf.

Catania, 1984). Behavior is physical, and it functions to
do something. The best test of whether it is physical is
whether yon ran nhsprvp i't. You might use your
unaided senses, or you might use electronic
instruments. Running is an obvious example of
behavior: You can observe the action of the legs as they
move the body somewhere. I will describe four broad
categories of human activity that behavior analysts
consider behavior, starting with examples that are
clear to most people. I will progress to examples that
confuse most people, such as many activities that
people usually call mental. I hope to change your
understanding of the unclear and murky examples so
that they are clear to you.
1. Behavior is anything that a person dcrS .
Clear examples of behavior for most people involve
obvious body actions. You would probably label biting
into an apple as behavior. You might also call hitting a
ball, walking a mile, and jumping over a ditch behavior.
You would probably label shouting as behavior.
Behavior analysts consider such actions behavior
because they are physical
A Leading Philosophers
View on Mental Events
Mental events are identical with physical
events (Davidson, 1980: p. 209). Behavior
analysts view anything that people do, including
mental and physical activities, as forms of
behavior
2. Behavior analysts view anything that people
do, including mental and physical activities,
as forms of ______
15

20 Lesson 2
or when they stop. You are unlikely to find out exactly
when they space out or for how long, how many pages
they read, or how many questions they answer. In
other words, you will not find out precisely what
happened. Given such vague data, the behavior
analyst can learn little about what causes studying.
It's like physicists trying to learn about gravity from
someone telling them that an object falls pretty fast.
Second, self-reports often cannot be checked. When
people report on internal events, we usually cannot
check their accuracy. When they report events with no
one else present, we usually cannot check their
accuracy. When they report events that happen rarely,
we often cannot check on them. When they report on
events that they hide from others, such as crime,
deviant acts, or behavior they feel guilty about, we
cannot check on them. We probably should not rely on
the information contained in self-reports that cannot
be checked.
Third, self-reports are often wrong. Even when
self-reports provide sufficient detail, we may find that
they are simply not accurate. When we can check up on
them, we often find that they are not correct reports of
what happened. The errors some- o- times arise because
memory is imperfect, but there is also the fact that people
want to present a par- ^ ticular image to others. We should
never assume that self-reports are correct unless we have
verified that they are likely to be accurate.
Over the years I have collected a number of
examples of problems with self-reports. These ex-
amples do not prove that all self-reports lack detail,
are wrong, or cannot be checked, but they can give you
a feeling for some of the problems that arise.
For example, Mertz and his colleagues asked 266
people how many calories they usually eat (Mertz,
Tsui, Judd, Reiser, Hallfrisch, Morris, Steele, &
Lashley, 1991). He then fed them only the amount of
calories they claimed to be eating. They lost weight! He
concluded that most of his informants had been eating
25% more than they reported. This study clearly shows
the dangers of relying on the self-report observations
of informants.
Mertzs findings are not unusual. La Pierre wrote
a letter in 1934 to 128 owners of restaurants and
motels, asking whether they would accept Chinese
guests. Over 90% of them said no. Yet every single
one of them had served La Pierre
and his Chinese friend on a recent cross-country trip
(La Pierre, 1934). La Pierre did this study before most
Americans felt ashamed of discriminating, The owners
probably feared that La Pierre didnt like Chinese and
that they would lose his business if they admitted
serving Chinese. If he had drawn conclusions from
these self-report observations, he would have been
seriously wrong!
When Brickman asked students walking on a
college campus if they would pick up litter, 94% of
them said yes. Yet 20 feet from where they answered
the question, the researcher planted some litter near a
trash can. Only 1% of the students picked it up
(Brickman, 1972). Based on the self-report
observations, he would have drawn conclusions exactly
opposite to reality.
Hoelscher and his colleagues studied 21 anxiety
patients. They lent the patients a relaxation tape and
asked them to practice using it. Later the researchers
asked how much time each patient practiced
(Hoelscher, Lichstein, & Rosenthal, 1984). They also
secretly observed how much time each patient
practiced, using a hidden timer that recorded how long
the patients turned the tape recorder on. The patients
reported that they practiced 26% longer than the time
shown by the hidden timer. This is another example of
the inaccuracy of self-report observations, but the
researchers made an even more important discovery.
When the researchers used the patients self-report
observations, they found no correlation with anxiety.
However, when they used the time from the hidden
timer, the researchers found an inverse correlation
with anxiety. The more the patients practiced, the less
anxiety they had. Thus, if the researchers had relied on
self-report observations, they would have drawn the
wrong conclusion. They would have concluded that
relaxation practice had no effect, when it actually did.
Many similar studies exist. Wicker reviewed 31
studies showing that what people say and do differ
(Wicker, 1969). Lloyd reviewed additional studies
concluding that self-report observations are hot
accurate (Lloyd, 1980).
Much research shows just how inaccurate un-
trained observers are. For example, studies of rumor
illustrate how inaccurately people report events
(Allport & Postman, 1945). For another example,
studies of eyewitness testimony show how inaccurately
untrained observers report events. Read the box on
nearly 2000 eyewitnesses who were wrong!

Definitions of Everyday Behaviors 23

Figure 2-4. Behavior analysts consider thinking to be a
form of behavior, though it is a behavior that i, others
cannot see. Thinkers may not call what they'* are doing
behavior, but they are doing something. Behavior
analysts call this private behavior.
ior analysts can increase accuracy further by having
someone else make an independent report. Accuracy
would be greater if Mr. Patel openly checked up on one
of his wifes meals each week. Accuracy would be
greater if the behavior analyst told Mrs. Patel about
any disagreements in the reports. These and other
steps can improve the accuracy of such observations.
Observing your own behavior is a form of direct
observation when these safeguards are followed. ^
When people use a behavioral definition and write
their observations immediately, and someone else
makes an independent report, behavior, analysts call
this a direct observation. When people do not use a
behavioral definition, when they report from memory,
or when no one makes an independent report, behavior
analysts call this a self-report.
y

Is Attention a Behavior? Part 1
Do you think of attention as something that goes
on in the hidden recesses of the mind? One
dictionary defines it as applying the mind to an
object of sense or thought... a selective narrowing
or focussing of consciousness and receptivity
(Websters New Collegiate Dictionary, 1977, p.
72). Behavior analysts view it as something that
people do. They view it as behavior! Jim Holland
found one way to observe it. He placed a U.S.
Navy recruit in a dark room with a button. When
the recruit pressed the button, a light came on
showing the pointer on a dial for a moment. The
recruits task was to report whenever the pointer
was deflected. Holland could tell when the recruit
looked by observing when he pressed the button.
He could tell whether the recruit was paying
attention by whether or not he correctly reported
deflections of the pointer (Holland, 1958).
8. Holland turned the concept of attention from a
private event into one that can be directly g
bse^ru-td ________________________
Summary
This lesson teaches you the first tactic in using the
behavioral strategy to solve human problems: to
develop a behavioral definition that specifies exactly
how to observe the behavior. Observing behavior is not
a limitation, because behavior is anything that people
do. You can observe obvious, subtle, internal, or
private behavior. One approach to observing behavior
is through self- reports. Unfortunately, that leads to
problems: self-reports are usually inaccurate or of
unknown accuracy. You can solve this problem by
using the principle of direct observation to observe
behavior. Using direct observations is usually a more
accurate approach to observing behavior.
Behavior Analysis Examples
Some examples of behavioral definitions are given in
the paragraphs that follow. They show how behavior
analysts define behaviors that are subtle,