Generalization and Sustainability in Positive Behavior Support

Learning New Skills

Any learning experience someone has almost always includes operant and well as respondent learning.

-Martin and Pear

Every experience we have in life includes includes social learning that occurs along with internal emotional responses. Researchers in psychology have studied two different kinds of learning that takes place in every day routines and activities to better understand human behavior.

Operant learning refers to the reinforcers and punishers in an environment that have an impact on a person’s behavior. The association between a behavior its consequences in an environment results in social learning.

Respondent learning occurs when something that naturally elicits a physiological response is paired with something that does not initially elicit that physical response (the neutral stimulus). Over time, the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that can elicit a positive or negative physiological response.

For example, a person who experienced a violent shooting during a rock concert has an immediate fear response any time the song that was playing when the violence occurred is heard on the radio. Entering a large stadium is also paired with the same fear response for this person.

The difference between operant and respondent conditioning is that that respondent conditioning involves involuntary learning while operant conditioning is voluntary.

Janelle receives verbal praise and positive feedback from her employer when she utilizes the strategies from her PBS plan (taking a deep breathe, positive self-talk, using her prepared plan). She appreciates receiving reinforcers including praise and positive feedback from her supervisor. Janelle also gives herself reinforcement by celebrating her successes at work at the end of each day and weekly when she reaches the goals that she sets for herself. Janelle is good at connecting with customers and has received positive feedback on a regular basis. This also means a lot to Janelle because she loves her position at the bookstore and is proud of her success. Janelle as learned that using the calming strategies results in positive social reinforcers.

Reinforcement written on blue paper with side interior view of a brain inside a head on a green background

Janelle experiences both positive and negative physiological responses while working at the bookstore. Initially, Janelle was experiencing high levels of anxiety that were paired with the special online forms that customers need to ask for a book that isn't in the store. Just looking at these online forms caused Janelle to feel her anxiety start to escalate. In the past, Janelle's anxiety increased when she saw a customer walking towards her because she was anticipating that the person would ask her a difficult question. Both the presence of the online forms and seeing a customer approaching became conditioned stimuli that were paired with anxiety.

However, now that the positive support plan is implemented, Janelle is able to use self-regulation strategies that help her stay calm. Janelle began to practice her plan when the store wasn't very busy by handling the online forms and engaging in her deep breathing and positive self-talk. These practice sessions where she handled the forms helped her to feel calmer and more prepared when a customer approached her with a question. Now, Janelle no longer feels anxious dealing with online forms and has learned to associate customers approaching her with feelings that are positive.

Practice and mindfulness are written on pieces of wood on an orange background

Janelle’s has a past history that includes extreme levels of anxiety resulting in a need to flee from certain situations. When Janelle was young, she received verbal abuse from the adults in her life when she did not perform well at home and at school. People have reacted to her anxious behaviors at work and in school in a similar way: yelling at her, calling her names, bullying her, firing her, and removing opportunities.

Janelle’s past memories surface when she encounters routines where there are problems that come up she does not know how to solve. She is more likely to become anxious when the person she is talking to frowns or looks unhappy with her.

Janelle’s high levels of anxiety have made it difficult to maintain friendships and employment. Using positive behavior support, trauma-informed supports, and cognitive behavioral strategies have helped Janelle change how she responds to anxious situations. The people close to Janelle are more aware of their own actions and avoid statements that may be re-traumatizing.

Trauma spelled with wooden blocks on red, white, and blue background