PSY3130: HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY SEMESTER 1, 2021
BEHAVIOUR CHANGE PROJECT DETAILED GUIDELINES
By the conclusion of the Behaviour Change Project, students will be able to:
- understand the psychological processes underlying behaviour change
- develop an intervention for behaviour change, for themselves based on this knowledge
- recognise the challenges involved in behaviour change and strategies for dealing with these
- improve their own health and/or well-being.
To plan and carry out an intervention to change one aspect of your own behaviour that you would like to alter. This may be any behaviour relevant to your physical health, or your experience of well-being, that you would like to change.
To set goals you can use the SMART mnemonic:
Setting goals is essential – proximal goals (short term) and distal goals (long term).
You must begin the project AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, as successful behaviour change takes time. This project is to run over 6 weeks.
IMPORTANT: Your goal for the project must be changing a behaviour, and not an outcome.
Steps in the process of behaviour change
The process will involve (1) identifying the behaviour to be changed; (2) designing an evidence-based method to modify the behaviour in the desired direction and applying the method over a period of time; and (3) evaluating the outcome of the behaviour intervention – did it work? If yes, how will the behaviour change be maintained, etc.? If the intervention did
not work, what changes will you make? What were the barriers that prevented the behaviour modification from meeting proximal (short term) and distal (long term) goals, etc.?
Identifying a target behaviour:
A wide variety of behaviours may affect an individual’s health and well-being – some by their presence (smoking, nail biting, etc.) and some by their absence (inadequate exercise, poor diet, etc.). You will need to identify some behaviour of relevance to your own situation, and then develop an operational definition of it (as per assignment 1) – a definition that clearly identifies when the behaviour occurs so that it can be quantified. This is straightforward for some behaviours – for example, a smoker can count cigarettes as a target behaviour – but harder for others – for example, if you want to reduce muscle tension, you have to identify an actual modifiable behaviour leading to this outcome.
Example 1: “I wish to decrease the amount of junk food I eat.” This will require specification of the amount of junk food currently present in the diet (baseline data), the desired levels, and exactly how current and desired intake is to be measured (e.g., number of grams, number of food items, number of meals, snacks, etc.) and link this to a desirable outcome.
Example 2: “I wish to decrease my aggressiveness.” This will require translating a general term into observable and measurable behaviours. What specific behaviours will be identified as aggressive, and what criteria will be used to classify any given act as aggressive (e.g., consider that yelling at someone may not be aggressive if they are far away, the setting is noisy, or the content humorous)? Exactly how the criteria will be used to define an aggressive behaviour so that it can be quantified? Then you need to count for a period to establish your baseline data. Determine what behaviour you will choose to reduce aggressiveness.
Example 3: “I wish to fall asleep more quickly at night.” This is not a behaviour, but it is an outcome of behaviours. To gain this outcome, you will need to determine what your present sleep pattern is and what factors maintain it (e.g., thinking, back pains, etc.). It is clearly impossible for you to actually measure the time it takes to fall asleep – firstly, you are not awake to notice, and secondly, nothing will keep you awake more effectively than concentrating on when you fall asleep. Therefore that you will need to focus on identifying a
behaviour related to the maintaining factors – which might be doing relaxation exercises or meditation, eliminating distractions like mobile phones, laptops, etc. before sleeping (stimulus control), or “thought stopping” – and then counting the frequency of this behaviour.
It is critical to note that there is a difference between a behaviour (e.g., relaxation) and the outcomes of that behaviour (e.g., sleeping better). You may wish to become fitter, for example, but that is not a behaviour. It is a potential outcome of the behaviour of exercising more, or exercising more effectively. For time management, drawing up a timetable is not the behaviour of importance (it is part of the intervention): sticking to the timetable is.
The first step is to choose a target behaviour that can be operationally defined. Once you have started to identify the target behaviour more precisely, noting when and where it occurs, keep a record of how often this behaviour occurs. These records provide a guide to the “why” of the target behaviour: its antecedents and controlling consequences (reinforcements).
To assess the effectiveness of your behaviour change intervention, you will need good, reliable baseline data. Baseline data refers to how often the behaviour occurs now, at the beginning of the project. If the behaviour is relatively common – e.g., smoking, or chewing your nails – counting it for a few days might be enough to gauge effectiveness of the intervention. If it is less common, or occurs only on weekends – e.g., binge drinking, or ‘road rage’ – you may need a longer baseline period. For some behaviours – e.g., exercise, or eating junk food – you may be able to record accurately how often the behaviour has occurred in the last few weeks, and use that for your baseline data.
Some behaviours that might be chosen for change include study habits; compliance with treatment, exercise, or safety regulations; physiological reactions to stress; anger; shyness; and, of course, the obvious bad habits (smoking, eating chips, drinking) or good ones (increase fibre, relaxation, communication skills).
Basically you can choose any target behaviour that is linked to a behaviour outcome related to health or wellbeing.
Designing and applying the behaviour intervention/s:
Methods for changing the behaviour will involve changing antecedents (referred to as stimulus control) or changing your motivation (reinforcements) or both. In general, if you change both, the literature suggests that you are more likely to succeed. Select an intervention
that is appropriate to the behaviour (e.g., systematic desensitisation is great for phobias, but not much use for diet change, vice versa for self-reinforcement), and carry it out
systematically. Some methods may appear to be indirect. ‘Setting specific goals’, for example, fits under stimulus control, and ‘increasing your self-efficacy’ is still based on reinforcements.
Evaluating the behaviour change:
Your first week’s measurements provide baseline data, at the end of the project you count the behaviours over a period of time (6 weeks). It is likely that this will take you at least 3 weeks (mid-point), to get a clear idea of the persistence of change. Although this may sound tedious, the fact that you are counting will serve as self-reinforcement, too. Note that for scientific rigour, you should evaluate your progress at mid-point. Note any differences that occurred.
Are these differences meeting your proximal (short-term) goals? If not, then identify what modifications you may need to your original goals.
You can do the project for more than 6 weeks if you like. However, you will need to identify your mid-point for evaluation, and complete your data collection to give yourself sufficient time to write up the assignment.
It is important to note that behaviour change interventions may not always work.
There are a variety of reasons that may account for this, and a lack of change should never be interpreted as a personal failure or an insult to your competence as a student. The behaviour may have too many reinforcers to respond to a simple intervention; it may be too central to other behaviours; the antecedents may not be controllable over the short term. However, it is likely that you will know a great deal more about the behaviour by the time you finish this project, and that gives you more chances to work on it in future.
Report – Health Behaviour Project (40%)
At the end of the semester, you will need to write up the assignment in the form of a 3000- word report. This report should be organised around the following questions:
- What behaviour did you choose to change (target behaviour), and why? Include a summary from your literature review
- How much change did you intend to produce in that behaviour in terms of your proximal goals?
- How did you change the antecedents (stimulus change) or the reinforcements for your behaviour – that is, what was your method for behaviour change after three weeks (mid-point)?
- What intervention strategy/ies did you choose and why? Include a summary from your lit review
- What was your behaviour like at the beginning of the project (the baseline behaviour), and what was it like at the end of the project?
- Did you successfully change your behaviour to the degree that you intended? If your answer is no, why not?
- What did you learn from the project about behaviour change? How has the project impacted on your distal goals?
Note: We are flexible in terms of presenting your results/data we are flexible with how you want to present this information so long as it’s appropriate and in APA 7th edition format. You can present data anyway you want e.g. tables, graphs etc. (so long as it’s APA 7th ed format) in the results section or in appendices; so long as there is some reference to the information in the final results, milestone review and evaluation.
You will be expected to reference all the theoretical components of the project as a means of justifying all steps in your change process. This includes both the theoretical model used for the change project along with the techniques employed. Your assignment must use APA 7th edition for referencing.
For background information on the health behaviour project, please refer to chapters 2 and 3 from your prescribed textbook for PSY3130. This will also be covered in tutorial 2 (week 4).
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