This study sought to test the use of operant conditioning principles to increase the levels of exercise of the author, more specifically to increase the quantity of push-ups and sit-up sets. A baseline measuring of the sum of both sets of exercise was recorded over a 10 day period. An intervention plan was then used in an attempt to increase the levels of exercise sessions done in the subsequent 10 day intervention testing period. The Bloom’s method was used in the analysis to compare the baseline and intervention periods. Using this method, the research hypothesis was supported that operant conditioning did increase the levels of exercise significantly.
Behavioural intervention: Increasing exercise
The importance of exercise, especially in the widely sedentary lifestyle found today cannot be overstated. Physical inactivity is recognised as one of the most important population health risk factors. According to a government study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), only about 57 percent of the population perform enough activity to gain health benefits (Armstrong, Bauman & Davies, 2000). To further highlight this phenomenon, the AIHW study also found gardening to be amongst the most popular physical activities found, mainly amongst the senior population (Armstrong, Bauman & Davies, 2000). Researchers have reported alarmingly that 47 percent of female and 32 percent of male university going students in Australia are sufficiently inactive (Leslie, Owen, Bauman, Sallis, & Lo, 1999). Leslie et al. (1999) further found that physical activity typically declines between adolescence to adulthood, especially after the age of 30. Physical activity is not just essential for a healthy lifestyle but has been recommended as part of a treatment plan to fight depression, obesity and other psychological disorders (Palmer, 2005; Cagler, Gurses, Mutluay & Kiziltan, 2005). Furthermore, it has been found that regular physical activity minimises the risk of teenage women developing breast cancer (Bernstein, Henderson, Hanisch, Sullivan-Halley & Ross, 1994). It can therefore be argued that exercise is essential to achieve good health and minimise the risk of various diseases. Thus, a need to understand the reasons for physical inactivity and implement effective intervention strategies is imperative. In his study, Shimp (2001) reports that a commonly used platform to facilitate and maintain target behaviour is via the use of conditioning, especially operant conditioning. The conditioning theory was first introduced in 1937 by the radical behaviourist, B.F. Skinner (Bitterman, 2006). Operant behaviour was described by Skinner as behaviour which is controlled by its consequences (Staddon & Cerutti, 2003). Staddon and Cerutti (2003) further states that although the term was novel, the idea was nothing more than what was then called Instrumental Learning. Skinner’s conditioning theory in short emphasises that if behaviour is followed by positive reaction, it is likely to be repeated, called positive reinforcement (Carver & Scheier, 2004). Conversely, if behaviour has a negative reaction, it is likely it will not be repeated frequently, called negative reinforcement (Carver & Scheier, 2004). This follows the Premack Principle which states that a commonly occurring action, one more desirable for the actor, can be used effectively as a reinforcer for a less commonly occurring one, that is one less desirable for the actor (DiLalla, 2002). An example used to illustrate this principle is a parent requiring a child to participate in household chores before he or she can watch television. The term reinforcer is used to suggest anything that strengthens behavioural tendencies (Shimp, 2001). In this study, the author attempts to use the principles of operant conditioning on himself to increase the amount of exercise completed after an initial baseline monitoring period, to determine the occurrence of...
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