Module 12: Establishing Rule-Governed Behavior and the Behavioral Contract

Module Overview

Welcome to Module 12. Before we write the plan proposal, basically establishing some of the framework for the final APA formatted paper, we need to tackle the issue of rule-governed behavior and the behavioral contract. You will also complete Planning Sheet 8: Formalizing Rules for Your Plan. This is the last step before writing your plan proposal.


Module Outline

  • 12.1. Rule-Governed Behavior
  • 12.2. If-Then Statements…Again
  • 12.3. The Behavioral Contract
  • 12.4. Planning Sheet 8: Formalizing Rules for Your Plan


Module Learning Outcomes

  • Clarify the importance of explicitly stating rules in your behavior modification plan.
  • Demonstrate the use of If-then statements as types of rules.
  • Explain the use of the behavioral contract in behavior modification.
  • Develop rules and a behavioral contract for your plan (or those of others).



12.1. Rule-Governed Behavior


Section Learning Objectives

  • Explain the function of rules in behavior modification plans.
  • Exemplify rules that can be developed.


Though we have already established goals much earlier in this course, we now need to know how we will go about achieving these goals. Rules will aid with this by adding order, predictability, and reliability to our plan. Really, this is not new. We are already used to having rules govern all aspects of our life. Young children are given rules as to when they can play video games, need to go to bed, what chores to do to earn allowance, when to go to school, what homework to complete, when they can eat lunch or leave for the day, etc. Adults are governed by rules too. We are told when we can pass through the traffic light, how fast we can drive, when our credit card bill is due and how much, who we pay rent to, what we can take on a plane with us, what time we need to be at work, what time the store opens up, etc. Failure to follow rules often leads to a punisher of some type…for both children and adults. Though you may not be punished in the same way in your behavior modification plan, you likely will face consequences for now following your clearly established rules. This may take the form of not receiving tokens to cash in, being reminded of your goal by your significant other via a prompt, feeling guilt over eating that dessert or not making it to the gym, being thirsty because you forgot your water bottle, etc.

How might these rules look in a behavior modification plan:

    • Target Behavior – Drink more water (behavioral deficit currently)
    • Behavioral Definition – Drink 8 oz. of water (1 behavior)
    • Goals:
      • Drink 8 oz. of water each day (7 behaviors)
      • Drink 16oz. of water each day (14 behaviors)
      • Drink 32 oz. of water each day (28 behaviors)
      • Drink 48 oz. of water each day (42 behaviors)
      • Final Goal – Drink 64 oz. of water each day (56 behaviors)
    • Criterion: Drink the specified amount of water for two weeks, upon which time move to the next goal.
    • Possible Strategies:
      • Present Cue for Desired Behavior (DB) – Have a water bottle by your bed when you wake up in the morning.
      • Reducing Effort for making DB – Carry your water bottle with you to school
      • Establishing Operation for DB – Having a water bottle filled with cold water with you when you go to the gym
      • Verbal Prompt – Your best friend reminds you to drink water
      • Self-Instructions – Write yourself motivational statements about the benefits of drinking water, such as having a nice skin complexion. Look at your pros of changing the behavior, both short and long term, from Planning Sheet 2.
      • DRO – Provide reinforcement when you do not drink tea or soda.
      • Overcorrection – Positive practice – if you do drink tea or soda, make sure you drink more water the next day.
      • Self-praise – Congratulate yourself on a job well done.
      • Token Economy or General PRs – If you do a great job with your water consumption for the day, give yourself tokens to be traded in later or award yourself extra Netflix time as a standalone reinforcer.
      • Social Support – Your friend is helping you and possibly delivering the reinforcers and punishers upon review of your ABC charts and journal.
    • Temptations:
      • You love soda when you are at a restaurant.
      • You also like to drink tea and usually would make it at home and take it with you to school.
      • Your boyfriend or girlfriend also loves tea and soda and so you need to be aware of this temptation.
    • Rules:
      • I will drink 8 oz. of water from one of my pre-bought water bottles or a Contigo cup. (This way I know I am drinking the correct amount.)
      • I will carry a water bottle to school with me each day I have class.
      • I will take a drink at the end of each class as I leave (at the minimum. I can drink during class too if I wish).
      • I will have my water for the day drank by dinner time so it can run through my system during the day and evening and I am not waking up during the night to use the bathroom.
      • I will award myself 10 tokens for each 8 oz. of water I drink (and other rules associated with the token economy).
      • I will give myself an additional 2 tokens each time I go for a day at school without drinking water and soda (DRO linked to the token economy).
      • If I do drink soda or tea outside of times that I am allowed to (i.e. cashing in tokens) then I will drink an extra 8 oz. the next day to correct for this (linked to positive practice).

Etc. As you can see, your fully developed plan includes these rules as a final step. Though they may already be stated in other places, such as with the token economy, be sure that you list all rules in one place…and together. You should have a clear list made up and not need to search through all aspects of your plan to find them.

Again, it is important that the rules you write not be vague. They should clearly state what you are expected to do. At the same time, do not make them impossible to achieve. If we are trying to drink more water, we might state that we can never drink soda again. This is an extreme and a soda on occasion is okay. It’s like the cliché, ‘All things in moderation.’ Which leads us to revisit, and refresh, a topic from the last module.



12.2. If-Then Statements…Again


Section Learning Objectives

  • Review the use of If-then Statements for temptations and mistakes.
  • Describe how to develop if-then statements to use in your plan as a type of rule.


As already noted, we are engaging in rule-governed behavior. When we discussed temptations, we also noted the use of If-then statements. Those apply here as well, and though not mentioned in Module 11, these are rules too. Unlike rules that specify when we work out, what we drink water in, or foods we can eat, these specify what we will do when faced with certain temptations, or even if we make a mistake. So, as you write your rules list, be sure you keep these in mind too. We already had some if-then statements in our list in Section 11.1, though they were not written as so. Consider: ‘I will award myself 10 tokens for each 8 oz. of water I drink.’ You can rephrase this as, ‘If I drink 8 oz. of water, then I will award myself 10 tokens.’ Other aspects of your token economy, DRO procedure, self-praise, etc. will work the same. These rules as if-then statements tell you what you receive if you engage in the correct behavior.

In terms of temptations and mistakes, you might use If-then statements as follows:

  • Temptation – If I am at a restaurant and offered a soda, then I will remind myself of my goal via a self-instruction.
  • Temptation – If I am going out with friends later that night, then I will drink a protein drink so that I am not hungry.
  • Temptation – If I wake up and play games on my phone and do not make it to the gym, then I will leave my phone in my school bag in the future.
  • Mistake – If I forget to drink water, then I will ask my roommate to remind me.
  • Mistake – If I forget to record how many water bottles I drank during the day, I will program reminders on my phone.
  • Mistake – If I use the DRO procedure incorrectly, then I will figure out what I did wrong and implement it correctly going forward.

You can use these If-then statements as some of your rules and in conjunction with others such as ‘I will drink 8 oz. of water from one of my pre-bought water bottles or a Contigo cup.’ This rule cannot be written as an If-then statement but is a rule all the same. All rules described in Section 11.1 and 11.2 add predictability, order, and reliability. There is no guesswork which will hopefully make your plan’s success more likely.



12.3. The Behavioral Contract


Section Learning Objectives

  • Describe the behavioral contract and its contents.
  • Exemplify what a behavioral contract looks like.


And now to the last formal topic before we get to our plan proposal – the behavioral contract. This is a written agreement between two people in which at least one of the two have agreed to engage in a specific level of the target behavior. A behavioral contract should at least include the following:

  • Statement of the target behavior
  • The behavioral definition
  • Your goals and timetable for these goals if you have one
  • What recording method will be used
  • Strategies that will be used
  • Anyone who is part of the plan as social support
  • The rules related to when the behavior will be made and how it will be reinforced or a problem behavior punished. You might include rules related to how temptations and mistakes will be dealt with, though this can just be left in your plan itself. The rules can be scattered throughout the contract. You will have them grouped together in your plan.
  • You also clearly state who will deliver the reinforcers and punishers, or who will serve as the contract manager. This person should not gain directly from your failure, such that if you do not meet your goals they are to receive some coveted baseball card in your possession.

Behavioral contracts may involve just one person changing a behavior, called a one-party contract, or two parties. In the case of the latter, there could be an issue between roommates in which Roommate 1 wants Roommate 2 to clean up behind him or herself while Roommate 2 wants 1 to pay his/her part of the rent on time so as not incur late fees.

Whether you are dealing with a one-party or two-party contract, these are a form of public commitment and should increase the desired behavior. The consequences for making, or not making, the target behavior clearly established meaning this is also a form of rule-governed behavior. Interestingly, since the expectations of all involved parties are clearly stated, not meeting the agreed upon terms should create a state of anxiety which is aversive and leads to engaging in the target behavior to escape the anxiety. In the future, the desired behavior will occur to avoid this anxiety. Again, the important word is should. Some people don’t feel the anxiety for one reason or another.

Behavioral contracts can take different forms, and Figure 12.1 shows an example of one that I used with my nutritionist a few years back. Notice that the rules governing my behavior, the dispensing of reinforcers and punishers, the role of my contract manager, etc. are listed throughout. Also, my goal is restated as well as my behavioral definition and timetable. Some of my strategies are described briefly as well as my recording method. Again, there are different ways to do this and this is one example.

Key features:

  • My wife was my contract manager, but it was developed with my nutritionist too.
  • End goal and timeframe – “The end goal is to see my weight fall from 270 lbs. to 220 lbs and I want this to occur by December 31, 2014.”
  • Subgoals – “I will lose weight at a rate of about 10 lbs every two months. As such, to drop 50 lbs every two months will require approximately 10 months as written in my plan. By making the goal only 10 lbs. allows for some mistakes to be made.”
  • Recording Method – “I will initially record the behavior on the Fitbit app on my phone. I can back this information up in my Excel spreadsheet each night.”
  • Token Economy – “If I complete the pre-defined behaviors, then I will receive tokens.”
  • Rule for Tokens – “I will be able to use my tokens (stars on a dry erase board) in exchange for the reinforcers listed in Table 2. I must have the required number of tokens in order to “purchase” a reward.” This is vague in the behavioral contract as the token economy was fairly complex and to list all behaviors and reinforcers would have been far beyond the scope of the contract. References were made to see the appropriate tables.
  • Temptation Statement – “In the event I succumb to temptation, I will have a response cost to punish the undesirable behavior.” This is an if-then statement though not written as such.

This plan involved four different behaviors I was trying to change and weight loss was one of them, involving the nutritionist and my wife. The other three behaviors – drinking water, reducing calories, and getting 8 hours sleep, were detailed in the plan itself. I only had the one contract for this one aspect of my plan. Since your plan will only include one behavior, your contract should cover the plan in full. There is no need to include a tremendous amount of detail as interested parties can look at your proposal, and later your final paper, if questions arise.


Figure 12.1. Behavioral Contract for Lee Daffin

I, Lee William Daffin Jr., will begin my self-management program the week after it has been approved by my wife and my nutritionist. The end goal is to see my weight fall from 270 lbs. to 220 lbs and I want this to occur by December 31, 2014. I will lose weight at a rate of about 10 lbs every two months. As such, to drop 50 lbs every two months will require approximately 10 months as written in my plan. Since my plan begins in mid-March, I will have approximately 9.5 months to accomplish this. This is reasonable as a safe weight loss per week is 2 lbs., and if I dropped that much weight per week, I would lose 16 lbs. every 2 months. By making the goal only 10 lbs. allows for some mistakes to be made.

To aid in the completion of this program I will accurately and honestly record my behaviors as they are performed. I will initially record the behavior on the Fitbit app on my phone. I can back this information up in my Excel spreadsheet each night.

I will also institute a reinforcement system (token economy). This system will reward the completion of the defined target behaviors. If I complete the pre-defined behaviors, then I will receive tokens. I will be able to use my tokens (stars on a dry erase board) in exchange for the reinforcers listed in Table 2. I must have the required number of tokens in order to “purchase” a reward. No exceptions. I can redeem my tokens when the “store” is open (sometime on Saturday each week). There are bonuses available for completing certain criteria as well as non-contingent events. In the event I succumb to temptation, I will have a response cost to punish the undesirable behavior.

In summary, I commit to completing my program by progressing through each sub-goal until reaching my final goal (50 lbs. of weight loss, or falling from 270 to 220 lbs.). I will accomplish this goal by the end of the 2014 calendar year and I will begin it once this plan is approved. I will record my behavior accurately and honestly and I will reinforce my behavior through the use of tokens. I will only be rewarded with tokens after I have completed the required behavior. At no time will I receive a token for actions I have not done. I will not “cheat” in any form. I will follow my plan as laid out in this document.


Signature: Lee William Daffin Jr.     Date:  3-12-14


12.4. Planning Sheet 8: Formalizing Rules for Your Plan

Section Learning Objectives

  • Complete Planning Sheet 8 and submit by the due date in the course schedule.


Your final task is to write the rules for your plan, most of which you have already done on Planning Sheets 3 (goals), 4 (data collection and recording method), 5 (the token economy), 6 (your strategies), and 7 (temptations and mistakes). You will also write your behavioral contract and sign and date it electronically. Be mindful to state your rules clearly. If they are vague, this may cause indecisiveness when called upon.

When you write your rule, it is a good idea to have a section heading for each major class of rules such as:

  • Behavioral Definition and Goals Rules
  • Method of Recording Rules
  • Strategies Rules – you will have numerous rules in this section, and several alone for the token economy
  • Temptations and Mistakes Rules

Feel free to use other categories if you want, but your rules will be written in bulleted format under each section. Do not write a paper. I will ask you to bullet the rules in the proposal and final paper, and so if you do it like this now and have no issues, you are finished with this part of the proposal. Make the heading bold and flush left to be consistent with APA format.

Planning Sheet 8 can be found in Appendix 1: Self-Management Plan Documents, at the back of this book.


Module Recap

Module 12 completed our discussion of all relevant content to be able to develop, propose, and then implement a plan. We discussed the need to have clearly stated rules and the function of a behavioral contract. In Planning Sheet 8 you developed rules and a contract for your own plan.

Module 13 will bring together all of what you have learned over the first 12 modules, one baseline phase, and 8 planning sheets, in a plan proposal that your instructor will ultimately have to approve.

Looking ahead beyond this, we will discuss how to implement your plan in Module 14 and then in Module 15 we will discuss how to evaluate and adjust your plan. Assuming all has gone well, we will move into maintenance phase and discuss how to avoid relapse in Module 16. Our last official module will cover how to write up your results in an APA formatted research paper, before we move on to exam preparation in Module 18.

If you have any questions, be sure to ask your Instructor now.


STOP – Complete and submit Planning Sheet 8 –

See Appendix 1 to obtain it.

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