The last function to be discussed in the ‘Why Does He Do That?’ series is tangible.
On any given day, we act in ways that get us the things or activities we want and the items we need. The behaviour can be as simple as pressing the button to turn on the TV or as complex as packing your bags, getting to the airport, boarding a plane and landing at your dream destination (though, that might be considered escape depending on the circumstances). When we suspect the function of a behaviour is tangible, the three-term contingency might look something like this:
Antecedent: deprived of the item we want (i.e., we haven’t had it for sometime, or haven’t had enough to meet our needs) and the desired item is either in sight, has been mentioned by others or has has come to mind.
Behaviour: We reach for, or approach and take an item. We ask for the item from someone or perform certain duties that have been asked of us. Or, sometimes we may yell, scream at others, make demands or threats, throw ourselves on the floor and maybe even cry.
Consequence: Someone gives us what we want or the environment offers what we need (and doesn’t deny us taking it)
If it is stuff we are after, we will demonstrate a behaviour that has resulted in stuff coming into our possession. And boy do we have a lot of stuff! The more we have, the more we keep getting it seems. This is due to how easy it is to be reinforced with stuff. Our physical and social environment have evolved to make access to things even easier - drive thrus, ordering on-line, Superstores, more TV channels. It’s stuff, stuff and more stuff. When we are so easily reinforced by stuff our tangible-getting behaviour increases and we acquire even more stuff. Soon, we come to expect this new level of stuff; rarely do we try to scale back. And when we do, it is hard work! Ask the people who are trying to lose weight, quit smoking or need to live on a limited income (as a side note, applied behaviour analysis can be of assistance in these areas of behaviour change).
I say it’s time to put ourselves on a thinner schedule of reinforcement when it comes to accessing our ‘want’ tangibles. We can demonstrate some form of restraint by delaying gratification. I don’t need to eat that cookie right now. Or we start offering people just a little bit less in their environment. No, I don’t need the supersize humongous gulp size. I’ll take a small thank you very much! Too bad our environment has so much to offer for our ‘wants’ and the people who profit from delivering such ‘wants’ are not going to start limiting their supply for society’s benefit any time soon.
We are definitely a tangible-obsessed society, but we can live a life of less is more.
Baking got me this tangible: http://behaviouristatplay.tumblr.com/post/7056349014/this-reinforcement-is-bananas-banana-bread-the