Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


40th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2014

Event Details

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Symposium #227
Humans and Our Ecosystem: Using Behavior Analysis to Help the Environment and Understand How Our Environment Affects Behavior
Sunday, May 25, 2014
2:00 PM–3:50 PM
W192a (McCormick Place Convention Center)
Area: CSE/EAB; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Mary Margaret Sweeney (Utah State University)
Discussant: William L. Heward (The Ohio State University)

This symposium brings together researchers from across the country that approach environmental issues from a behavioral perspective. Although the approaches differ, we work toward a common goal of creating a beneficial cycle of interactions between humans and our ecosystem. Meredith S. Berry will present data that suggest natural environments may improve self-control (providing additional impetus for conservation), and together with past research suggest that pro-environmental behaviors themselves may be improved by exposure to natural environments. Brent Kaplan will present research that shows scores on the New Environmental Paradigm scale (NEPS) are significantly related to behavioral economic demand for reusable shopping bags. These data provide construct and external validity to the NEPS, and also help to bridge the gap between behavior analysis and environmental psychology. Criss Wilhite will present her efforts to encourage xeriscaping, zero waste for academic buildings, and other projects at Fresno State. Dr. Scott Cohn of Western Colorado will present results from recycling field experiments and discuss them in terms of operant response requirements. Dr. William L. Heward of Ohio State has agreed to highlight key findings from these research presentations, and assist us in discussing the broader implications and future directions for this work.

Keyword(s): behavioral economics, delay discounting, environmental behavior, sustainability

The Nature of Self Control: Visual Exposure to Natural Environments Decreases Impulsivity

MEREDITH STEELE BERRY (Utah State University, University of Montana), Mary Margaret Sweeney (Utah State University), Justice Morath (Salt Lake Community College), Amy Odum (Utah State University), Kerry Jordan (Utah State University)

The benefits of visual exposure to natural environments for human well-being in areas of stress reduction, mood improvement, and attention restoration are well documented, but the effects of natural environments on impulsive decision-making remain unknown. Impulsive decision-making in delay discounting offers generality, predictive validity, and insight into decision-making related to unhealthy behaviors such as drug abuse and overeacting. The present experiment evaluated differences in such decision-making in humans experiencing visual exposure to one of the following conditions: natural (e.g., mountains, forests), built (e.g., buildings, cities), or control (e.g., triangles, squares) using a delay discounting task that required participants to choose between immediate and delayed hypothetical monetary outcomes. Participants viewed the images before and during the delay discounting task. Participants were less impulsive in the condition providing visual exposure to natural scenes compared to built and geometric scenes. Results suggest that exposure to natural environments results in better self-control than built environments.


Behavioral Economic Demand for "Green" Bags Predicts Scores on the New Ecological Paradigm Scale

BRENT KAPLAN (The University of Kansas), Derek D. Reed (The University of Kansas)

Behavioral economics has emerged as a viable way to model and inform public policy initiatives. Although much of the extant literature on behavioral economics has been restricted to pharmacological issues such as addiction or reinforcing efficacy of stimuli in therapeutic settings, recently researchers have investigated its applicability to a more broad range of societal issues. To further extend the reach of behavioral economics to such issues, we translated the behavioral economic notion of demand to sustainable products and assessed its relation to a widely cited proenvironmental attitudes scale, the New Ecological Paradigm Scale (NEPS). A hypothetical purchase task was used to assess 76 participants' demand for "green" bags in which they were asked how many reusable shopping bags they would purchase at differing prices. A number of findings emerged. First, the exponential model of demand fit the data well with a median R2 of .91 and demonstrated strong construct validity. Second, scores on the NEPS significantly predicted willingness-to-pay (Pmax) and was marginally related to other demand indices. Implications for public policy and further behavioral economic research are discussed.


Developing a Sustainable Campus Using the Five-Term Metacontingency

CRISS WILHITE (California State University, Fresno), Jonpaul D. Moschella (California State University, Fresno), Mara Brady (California State University, Fresno), Beth Weinman (California State University, Fresno), Peter Van de Water (California State University, Fresno)

In collaboration with administrators, faculty, and students, procedures were developed to strengthen university sustainability programs. The five-person Fresno State Sustainability Project committee used Houmanfar, Rodrigues and Ward's (2012) five-term metacontingency to conduct campus-and-community-wide sustainability programs. We assessed the cultural milieu of administrators and targeted behavior and reinforcers at each level of operation. This resulted in financial and material support from the university to implement new landscaping, recycling processes and conservation activities using campus personnel and volunteer student labor. Additionally, community groups joined with the Fresno State Sustainability Project to develop and produce a major educational campaign. The Fresno State Sustainability Project also developed a two-day Earth Day fair involving people from campus, the city of Fresno and the surrounding counties. Data include measures of water use, student use of lawns and other landscapes, monetary support, zero waste activities and changes in the number of personnel and entities supporting the project.


The Cost of Recycling: Effects of Modifying the Operant

SCOTT COHN (Western State Colorado University)

Environmental education plays a well-documented role in modifying recycling attitudes and beliefs. However, increasing the reinforcing value of the behavior through education does not necessarily translate into sustained improvements in recycling behavior. Previous research has demonstrated that factors like opportunity and convenience that translate into lower behavioral costs, produce higher rates of recycling when compared to interventions solely focused on changing attitudes and beliefs. Given that overt behavior exists in a dynamic relationship with the physical environment, changes made to an environment can alter response costs without modifying other schedule parameters. The sensitivity of recycling behavior to environmental changes is similar to other behaviors where the magnitude or rate of reinforcement is low in relation to response costs. Through a series of field studies, recycling rates were evaluated both before and after environmental modifications to reduce the response costs associated with recycling. In all cases, significant improvements were observed following modifications. Results are presented in the context of findings from community-based recycling initiatives, as well as the history of research on behavioral ecology and the biological constraints on learning in rats, mice, pigs, and humans.




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