SSS 571
Human Behavior
& the Social Environment
November 8, 2010
Lynn Mayer, MSW, PhD
Lewin’s wisdom
“There is nothing so practical
as a good theory.”
 Explore and challenge some misconceptions
 Present Behavioral theory and Social Exchange
theories via 7 questions
 Focus on people's problems and groups’ problems and
how these theories help us understand the problems
and help them change
 Put it all together by applying to case examples
So, what did you learn about social
exchange and behavioral theories
from your reading?
What are your assumptions about
them from your reading or past
Reviewing, what is theory?
 an interrelated set of concepts
 that are based on observations
 the relationship between concepts is expressed as
 These concepts and hypotheses are tested or testable
 and are intended to explain or predict phenomena.
7 Questions
1. What are the major premises of the theory?
2. Who thought this theory up?
3. Who are the social workers building on this early
4.How does the theory understand problems?
5. How did problems come to be?
6.How do problems go away on their own?
7. How do social workers help make problems go
Behavioral Theory
QUESTION 1: What are the major premises
of Behavioral Theory?
 We are what we do.
 We learn what we do (overt and covert behavior)
through respondent (classical) conditioning,
operant conditioning, and modeling
 Behavior is maintained by antecedent and
consequential conditions
 To change what we are, we must change what we do
by modifying the maintaining conditions
The Behavioral ABC
QUESTION 2: Who thought this theory up?
 Respondent Behavior and Conditioning: Ivan Pavlov
 Operant Behavior and Conditioning: B.F. Skinner
 (among others)
Respondent Behavior &Conditioning:
Ivan Pavlov
 Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?
 No, but it makes my mouth water!
Operant Behavior & Conditioning:
B.F. Skinner 1904-1990
QUESTION 3: Who are the social workers
building on this early thinking?
 Eileen Gambrill
 Bruce Thyer
Eileen Gambrill
“Behavioral practice involves an empirical approach to
personal and social problems in which the selection of
assessment and intervention methods is based
whenever possible on related research.”
Bruce Thyer
 “...It is a mistake to conclude that behavioral social
work practice requires any lesser degree of clinical skill
and acumen or complexity of conceptualization than
other approaches to practice.”
QUESTION 4: How does behavioral theory
understand “problems”?
 Problems are behaviors that are maladaptive for a
 Problem behaviors include those that are overt and
observable to others or covert and not observable
(thoughts, feelings, physiological responses)
 Problem behaviors include those that are
respondent (reflexive) or operant (voluntary)
 Like all behaviors (we do have adaptive ones), they
were learned in the past but maintained in the
present by antecedents and/or consequences
Pop Quiz: Question 1
Bruce Thyer would say, “This is an angry client.”
 True
 False
Pop Quiz: Question 2
Eileen Gambrill would say, “This client’s anger is easily
and often stimulated.”
 True
 False
Respondent (Reflex) Behavior:
 Involuntary responses, driven by the central
nervous system (not the skeletal muscles),
dependent on the stimuli that precede them
 Respondent behavior is dependent upon
antecedent stimulus changes in the environment
 Respondent behavior itself is not learned; it is an
automatic reflex elicited by a natural stimulus, but
it can be conditioned to a neutral stimulus
Operant Behavior
 Voluntary behavior of the skeletal muscles with which
we operate on the environment
 Dependent on the reinforcing consequences that
 Operant behavior is learned through operant
conditioning; through reinforcement
Operant Behavior
QUESTION 5: How did problems come to
 Problem behaviors, like all behaviors are learned in the
 But they are maintained in the present by maintaining
 Some behaviors are maintained by antecedent
conditions (under stimulus control)
 Others are maintained by consequential conditions
Maintaining Antecedents
 Mother tries to strengthen daughter’s getting ready for
school by providing reinforcing praise, but if Mom
ceases to cajole, yell, prompt, the behavior doesn’t
 Anxiety is triggered by the presence of a dominating
authority figure
 A child successfully learns to read, because she has the
prerequisite knowledge, skill, and resources (setting
Maintaining Consequences
 Good work performance is strengthened by a
monetary bonus
 Aspirin-taking becomes more probable if the
headache goes away
 Child’s shouting out in class continues despite
teacher’s lecturing, yelling, chastising (the ubiquitous
negative attention!)
We learn behaviors in 3 ways
 We learn respondent behavior through respondent
 We learn operant behavior through operant
 (We also learn through modeling)
Learning through Respondent (Classical)
Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov found:
 A dog that involuntarily salivates upon
presentation of natural stimulus – meat - learns
(or is conditioned) to salivate when presented with
a neutral stimulus – a bell – through repeated
pairing of the bell with the presentation of the
 By repeatedly pairing a neutral stimulus with a
natural, the neutral stimulus will come to elicit the
same response; thus, it becomes a conditioned
Why should social workers care?
 Affective responses (e.g. fear or anger) are respondent
behaviors that can become conditioned to neutral
 Child in hospital
Painful medical treatment
Painful treatment + white coats
White coats
Learning through Operant Conditioning
 B.F. Skinner observed that the rate of animal
behavior may be increased or decreased by altering
the consequences
 Successive approximation: random behavior
approximating a desired operant behavior is
reinforced; later, behaviors that are successively
closer approximations of the desired behavior are
systematically reinforced, shaping the desired
QUESTION 6: How do problems go away
on their own?
 Through respondent extinction
 Through operant extinction
 If there are unpleasant consequences
for the behavior (punishment or cost)
 By learning a competing adaptive
Respondent Extinction
What is respondent extinction?
 Conditioned stimulus that has maintained
maladaptive respondent behavior loses its power to
elicit the problematic response
 Example: Woman with a bridge phobia keeps forcing
herself to drive over bridges with no ill effect and
gradually the anxiety lessens.
 But what if she can’t bring herself to do this?
Operant Extinction
What is operant extinction?
 Maladaptive operant behavior that was previously
maintained by reinforcing consequences is no
longer reinforced
 Example: Child’s shouting out in class (rather
than raising her hand) has been consistently
attended to by the teacher (reinforced), albeit by
chastising, is then ignored by the teacher and the
shouting out weakens
 Is this a sufficient solution?
Unpleasant consequences:
punishment or response cost suppression
What is response cost and punishment?
 Operant behavior, previously maintained by
antecedents or reinforcing consequences, is now
followed by something unpleasant
 Example: Dangerous or risky driving lessens after a
serious accident
 Is this a sufficient solution?
Learning a competing adaptive behavior
What is Differential Reinforcement of Other
 An adaptive behavior that competes with the
maladaptive one is (differentially) reinforced while the
maladaptive one is ignored
 Example: the teacher praises the child when she raises
her hand and ignores shouting out
QUESTION 7: How do social workers help
make problems go away?
Deceleration techniques
Acceleration techniques
(Modeling techniques)
Deceleration Techniques Based on
Respondent Extinction
Weaken a maladaptive behavior by focus on removal of
the maintaining “A”
 Systematic desensitization or gradual exposure to the
feared stimulus
 Possible pairing of stimulus with relaxation response
 Conditioned stimulus loses its power
 A form of Respondent extinction and DRO
Deceleration Techniques Based on
Operant Extinction
Weaken a maladaptive behavior by
focus on the removal of the
maintaining “C”
 Time out from positive reinforcement
 Ignoring
 Response-cost
 Punishment
Some things work but are
unethical; e.g. cattle prods
Acceleration Techniques
Acceleration techniques strengthen a new adaptive
behavior via reinforcement – applying a new
maintaining “C”
 Direct reinforcement of adaptive behavior
 Differential reinforcement of a competing behavior
 Token economy (indirect reinforcement)
Case A: Fear & Clinging in a Young Child
A young man walks into a nursing home with her
mother to visit her grandmother. She sees a man in a
white coat whom she has never seen before. She feels
fear and immediately clings to her mother.
Case A 1: Fear
 How does behavioral theory define fear in general?
 Use explanatory concepts from behavioral theory to
explain how fear might have come to be for this child.
 Use change concepts from behavioral theory to explain
how this child’s fear could go away on its own.
 Use change concepts from behavioral theory to explain
how social workers help make fear go away.
A 2: Clinging
 How does behavioral theory define clinging in
 Use explanatory concepts from behavioral theory to
explain how clinging might have come to be for this
 Use change concepts from behavioral theory to explain
how this child’s clinging could go away on its own.
 Use change concepts from behavioral theory to explain
how social workers help make clinging go away.
We are what we do;
to change what we are,
we must change what we do.
Social Exchange Theory
QUESTION 1: What are the major premises
of Exchange Theory?
Social Exchange Theories
 Rooted in Utilitarianism, Functional Anthropology, &
Psychological Behaviorism
 1960s
 Challenge to Functionalism
Social Exchange Theories
 Concepts:
 Profits
 Norm of Reciprocity
 Costs
 Punishments
 Rewards Foregone
 Distributive Justice
 Satiation
 Scarcity
 Power
 Principle of Least
 Achieved Investments
 Ascribed Investments
 Status
 Status Congruence
 Norms
Social Exchange Theories - WHO
 George C. Homans
 Psychological Principles
Operant Conditioning
 Psychological
 Social Behavior
Social Exchange Theories - WHO
 Homans Propositions
 Success Proposition
 Stimulus Proposition
 Value Proposition
 Deprivation – Satiation Proposition
 Aggression – Approval Propositions
 Rationality Proposition
Social Exchange Theories - WHO
1918 - 2002
Peter Blau
 Types of rewards
Extrinsic rewards
Intrinsic rewards
 Categories of Social
Social Exchange Theories - WHO
 Blau’s Stages
 Personal Exchange Transactions
 Differentiation of Status & Power
 Legitimatization & Organization
 Opposition & Change
Social Exchange Theories - WHO
Richard Emerson
 Exchange analysis of
networks & social structures
 Mathematical approach
 Power dependence
1925 - 1982
Social Exchange Theories - WHO
 Emerson’s Exchange Network
 There is a set of either individual or collective actors.
 Valued resources are distributed among the actors.
 There is a set of exchange opportunities among all the actors
in the network.
 Some exchange opportunities have developed into actually
used exchange relations.
 Exchange relations are connected to one another in a single
network structure.
Social Exchange Theories - WHO
Karen Cook
 Exchange networks v
network theory
 Exchange theory as
 Micro
 Macro
QUESTION 3: Who are the social workers
building on this early thinking?
“exchange theory has
received little attention
in social work.”
QUESTION 4: How does social exchange
theory understand “problems”?
 Types of Power
 Coercive
 Reward
 Expert
 Legitimate
 Referent
QUESTION 5: How did problems come to
QUESTION 6: How do problems go away
on their own?
QUESTION 7: How do social workers help
make problems go away?
 Application
 Interpersonal
 Within Small Groups
 Within Families
 Between Small Groups
 Between Various Groups
 Between Nations and Nations
 Think about using social exchange theory
“ Follow an old path and you find the expected.
Blaze a new trail and you have an adventure.”
Evelyn Loeb
Case C: Two Agencies Competing for Same Grant
A large county agency has had the grant to provide Head
Start (HS) services. They have been the only grantee
in the area for years. A different, smaller agency
unexpectedly gets the grant to provide a new service,
Early Head Start (EHS), in the same geographic area.
This agency has never gotten a HS grant before. The
large agency is not funded to provide EHS services.
Case C continued…
So… the small agency will serve the babies and the large
agency will serve the preschoolers. As the small
agency is writing their start up plan, they are told by
the federal office to consult with the large agency for
help. When they call, the large agency won’t help.
 How would exchange theory define this problem?
 How do the exchange theory concepts apply?
 Which of Homan’s propositions do you think is
influencing the behavior of the small agency? Of the
large agency? Why?
 The small agency needs something from the large
agency. Using Blau, what do you think the small
agency will do to get it?
 Who has the power in this situation? What kind?
 What would a social worker do in this situation using
this theory?
Many Ways of Knowing
“There are many truths and many ways of knowing.
Each discovery contributes to our knowledge, and each
way of knowing deepens our understanding and adds
another dimension to our view of the world…we must
not turn our backs on any opportunities to enhance our
knowledge…the boundaries of our profession are wide
and deep…no one way of knowing can explore this vast
and varied territory.”
Ann Hartman

Many Ways of Knowing - National Catholic School of Social Service