This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 05 table of contents.

Applied Analysis of Antecedents

So far most of our examples of applied behavior analysis have involved changing the consequences of behavior. But antecedents of behavior are important, too. Antecedents are things that happen before an event, and they may control behavior by signaling when a behavior will or will not be followed by a reinforcer.

Recall the discussion of discriminative stimuli. An S+ is a stimulus indicating reinforcement is available. An S- is a signal that reinforcement is not available, or that punishment may be coming. Naturally, animals learn to perform a behavior in the presence of an S+ and to suppress it in the presence of an S-. Behavior reliably emitted or suppressed in the presence of a particular stimulus is said to be under stimulus control.

How can you manipulate antecedent stimuli to help study more?

B.F. Skinner

The powers of daily habit can jumpstart important life activities. Books about studying in college typically advise that students set aside a particular time and place for study. The familiar time and location triggers the studying behavior. That is important with studying because getting started is half the battle. Usually studying is not too painful once one gets started. Problems occur when a person never gets started or procrastinates until there is too much work for the remaining time.

How did B.F. Skinner apply this principle to increase his writing productivity?

B.F. Skinner, whose research on operant conditioning underlies virtually all of the second half of this chapter, used stimulus control to encourage his scholarly work. He followed a rigid daily schedule. At 4 a.m. he got up and ate breakfast, then he wrote for about five hours. Time and the environment of his home office served as discriminative stimuli to get him started on his writing. Around 10 a.m. Skinner took a walk down to campus (Harvard) to meet his morning classes. Walking probably became a stimulus for mulling over his lectures for the day. In the afternoon he attended meetings and scheduled appointments. With this routine he was always able to put in a few good hours of writing every day during his prime time, early morning, while also scheduling adequate time for his other activities.

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