Runner’s High: A Brief Analysis of My Running Behavior


Three miles into my run and I’m dragging my feet and gasping for every breath. But something is compelling me to push forward. It’s like my body is telling me it has to do it. ”Keep on going!”, my body says. Call it an urge, sensation, or feeling if you will. From the combined viewpoints of running and behavior analysis, the concept of the runner’s high is intriguing to me. I can think of a few of reasons for continuing the run at this point. So I wanted to offer up a very brief, and not overly technical, functional analysis of my running behavior.

First, I have 2 more miles to go before I get home. I could stop now and all will be well. For some people completion of the exercise is a reinforcing “event”. I am one of those people. There is a satisfying feeling obtained when the run is finished. If that is the case, then my reinforcement history would lead me to think that I would finish the run because completion of the run itself is reinforcing. Therefore running is maintained by positive reinforcement, right?

In addition, there often comes a point in a run when I feel no discomfort, no pain, no worries during a jog. For a guy with chronic back pain and multiple knee and foot injuries, this is amazing consequential event. So in my case, running could operate under negative reinforcement because I am able to escape (even if temporarily) the pain effects of chronic injuries?

However, running does satisfy an urge, sensation, or feeling associated with what is commonly called “runner’s high”, which indicates that running serves a sensory function. Sometimes I cannot wait to get home because of the urge to get a run in. Lately when I am approaching the end of a run, I begin to think I should keep on going because I have not felt “the high” indicating that I might need to run more. Then I continue a little longer in order to obtain the sensation of “the high”. In that sense, wouldn’t running be maintained by automatic reinforcement?

So perhaps my running behavior is multiply controlled behavior. It is positively reinforced merely by completion of the run. The behavior is negatively reinforced due to the pain-alleviating effects it allows. But still running is automatically reinforced due to the access to sensory stimulation that it provides.

Now it’s time to move on to analyzing my nail biting behavior….. 🙂

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