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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My Behavior Change Project, the short version…

My project: A intervention plan based on Piazza et al’s An Evaluation of the Effects of Matched Stimuli on Behaviors Maintained by Automatic Reinforcement (Piazza et al, 2000), Shore et al’s An Analysis of Reinforcer Substitutability Using Object Manipulation and Self-injury as competing responses (1997), and Groskreutz et al’s Response Competition and Stimulus Preference in the Treatment of Automatically Reinforced Behavior: A Comparison (2011).

Experimental question: What is the effect of substituting object manipulation for self-injury on a student with the comorbid special education eligibilities of emotional disturbance and mental retardation?

My shortened conclusion: Basically I came to similar conclusions. We were able to reduce self-injurious behavior (skin picking) of a student by providing the student a squeezable toy (that provided tactile, visual, and auditory stimuli) as freely available as the reinforcement schedule for self-injury. However long term maintenance of the behavior may only last as long as the item is preferred. Another factor to consider is accounting for all possible sensory-matched consequences. Although the object matched many dimensions of the reinforcing effects of self-injury, such as tactile (resistant pressure), visual (seeing blood), and auditory (squishing sound), it did not match them all (specifically pain). Introducing a stimulus that induces pain to would violate moral and ethical standards.

Therefore intervention could continue providing an object that matches many suspected sensory stimuli which can be manipulated as an alternative to self-injury. However, the intervention must also include moral and ethical methods for reducing pain or minimizing the reinforcing effects of pain on self-injury. Additionally, a procedure to provide differential reinforcement for behaviors that are incompatible (DRI) with the self-injury would enhance intervention plan.

Implications: This project took place in a school setting. Putting such an intervention in place although not labor intensive, was time intensive in the beginning. It required the very controlled environment of a self-contained special education classroom. This was done in order to minimize extraneous variables that can confound the intervention variable. Although this intervention appears complicated, it was actually very simple. In essence, if self-injurious behavior is suspected to be reinforced by automatic reinforcement, try to provide alternative activities that are both incompatible with and provide as much of the same sensory stimulation as the self-injurious behavior.