ABA Everywhere #1 – To Speed or Not to Speed

ABA Everywhere #1 – To Speed or Not to Speed

Many people think ABA is only applicable with children with autism, but everybody behaves. This means that ABA is valuable in a wide range of environments and people. ABA is everywhere.

Let’s look at a common, unwanted behavior we all exhibit at one time or another: speeding. The most common behavioral intervention for speeding is the possibility of receiving a speeding ticket and having to pay a fine, but it may not be the most effective way to deal with this behavior.

First let’s break down the reinforcement and punishment contingencies currently maintaining our speeding behavior. (For a refresher on ABA terms, click here.)

photo (21)In this contingency, the ticket is presented immediately following the behavior of speeding in order to decrease the future frequency of speeding.

photo (22)In this contingency, the points are presented following the behavior of speeding in order to decrease the future frequency of speeding. However, points being added does not immediately follow the behavior which decreases its effectiveness as a punisher.

photo (23)In this contingency, the license is removed following the behavior of speeding in order to decrease the future frequency of speeding. Again, the removal of license does not immediately follow the behavior. The punishment may occur days or even weeks after the behavior.

photo (24)In this contingency, the removal of a possible ticket is expected to increase future frequency of driving the speed limit. However, this contingency may not exist without the presence of a visible police officer or the perceived presence of a police officer.

What’s missing here? Why aren’t there any ways to positively reinforce good driving? One potential answer won a 2010 contest devised for Volkswagen Sweden. Called The Fun Theory, it was an open invitation to submit ideas for making somewhat banal daily tasks fun.

According to the New York Times, “Leveraging traffic-camera and speed-capture technologies, his Speed Camera Lottery device would photograph all drivers passing beneath it. A portion of the subsequent fines levied against speeders would be pooled in a lottery, with a random winner periodically drawn from the group of speed-limit adherents.” In a three day test of his Speed Camera Lottery, the average speed limit dropped from 32 kilometers per hour to 25 kilometers per hour.

While Volkswagen labelled this success as a result of “fun,” I’d like to look at it from an ABA standpoint. What are the contingencies at work here? Mr. Richardson’s idea of the Speed Camera Lottery Device maintains one of the contingencies listed above and introduces a contingency that does not exist in the current system–positive reinforcement.

photo (27)In this contingency, the Lottery Device presents your speed in red immediately following the behavior of driving above the speed limit, indicating that you will receive a fine. This is quite similar to the positive punishment contingencies already in place, however it may be strengthened when used in conjunction with the following contingency.

photo (26)In this contingency, the Lottery Device presents your speed in green immediately following the behavior of driving at or below the speed limit, indicating that you have been entered to win the lottery. 

While the results of the test showed a 22% decrease in average speed, they only included a 3-day trial. When you look at years of ABA research, this makes sense because it’s been proven over and over that when implementing a punishment procedure or an extinction procedure, you’ll have more success if it is supplemented with reinforcement for a replacement behavior. (In this case, driving the speed limit is the replacement behavior.) From an ABA perspective, we have to ask:

  • Over time, if you haven’t won the lottery, does the reinforcer effectiveness of a potential cash prize decrease?
  • The sign was put up on one multi-lane street and recorded speeding behavior only on that street. Did the presence of the sign on that street impact speeding behavior on nearby streets as well?
  • How often would lottery winners have to be announced to maximize reinforcer effectiveness?
  • What amount would the lottery winnings need to be set at to maximize reinforcer effectiveness?

As citizens, we all make decisions based on these contingencies every time we drive. But there are other setting events and stimuli that influence these contingencies: running late for work, having passengers (especially children) in the car, a car behind you honking, or maintaining the flow of traffic. And for many people, driving fast is in itself highly motivating. While we may never extinguish the behavior of speeding, it’s valuable for those knowledgeable about ABA to contribute to the conversation.

What ideas would you implement to affect speeding behavior?


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