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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Functions of Behavior: Everybody E.A.T.S.

This past week I was involved in a few discussions at work about behavioral function and the term “control” kept being tossed about. A few of the teams kept suggesting that control itself is a function of behavior. However, to say a behavior occurs because of control does not truly describe why a behavior occurs. Is the student trying to gain access to something? Is the student trying to avoid or escape something? What exactly is the student trying to control?

Often times, we easily confuse the form of the behavior with the function of the behavior. The form of the behavior can be influenced by many factors including culture, experience, ability level, and sensory needs (among others). Considering all the factors that can bias our interpretations of behavior, it makes it easy to just call it control, or power, or revenge. But regardless of the what it looks like (topography), analyze the behavior for what the student gains or avoids by engaging in the behavior (function). Consider what happens before the behavior (antecedents), and what happens after the behavior (consequences), and other environmental features in your observations and analysis. When you analyze the behavior and the environmental effects you will ultimately land on the following four functions: escape, attention, tangible, and sensory. All of our behaviors can be attributed to one or more of these functions. I like to use the phrase “Everybody E.A.T.S!” to help me remember:

“Everybody E.A.T.S.”

Escape: A stimulus or condition is terminated or avoided as a result of the behavior. For example a child engages in this type of behavior to escape or avoid a demand or non-preferred task or activity. Ever see a child tantrums when asked to sit down to do homework?

Attention: Interaction from peers or adults is gained as a result of the behavior. For example a student repeatedly cracks jokes in class and the other students laugh.

Tangible: Access to tangibles is gained as a result of the behavior. For example, a child tantrums when he is denied a toy at the toy store, but stops when he gets the toy.

Sensory: The behavior serves no other purpose but to provide access to sensory input. A common example is hand flapping or body rocking, but so is nail biting and even eating.

We must avoid using terms such as control, power, or revenge to describe behavior, for they are vague and inaccurate descriptions of what is gained or avoided. Instead all behavior plans should subsequently be based on an analysis of the observed consequences of the behavior. Ask questions, observe, and use data collection and interview forms to gain more information. A goal for assessment and intervention plan is to identify and provide a better way for an individual to get the same function met through acceptable alternative methods. By doing so we can identify ways to remove the need for student misbehavior.