First off — this Case Study is a bit more involved than previous ones, so I’ll be giving you a bit more time to get through it. It is also worth 20 points (compared to 10 in the past). Read through it carefully and look at what I want you to do.

In Chapter 5, we’ve been discussing the different mechanisms in how organisms learn. For example, the community we grow up in may lead us to have specific behaviors, mannerisms, beliefs, and so on. We may pick up behaviors unintentionally, and because of the situations we find ourselves in (or don’t find ourselves in), we can receive inadvertent reinforcements or punishments.

So, how do we change those behaviors?

One method is called Behavior Modification. In this model, we inventory our current set of behaviors, identify those that we want to change, set up a process, and then start the work. It’s best to keep the process simple at first, and you can see so major changes quickly.

Identifying the Behavior

In the summer of 1988, I seriously needed a job. The market in the greater Grand Forks area was not all that good, however, and it took me forever to finally get one – and it ranks right down there as the second worse job I’ve ever had: door-to-door sales.

This was my first foray into direct sales, and though I had sufficient training and even believed in the product I was selling, I only made a single sale through the summer. It was bad.

I was also taking a class on behavior modification that summer, and for the class, I needed to come up with a project where I modified one of my behaviors. As I sat on the front stoop one night after another failed day of selling my wares, I did an inventory:

  • What was keeping me from making sales?
  • What was I doing as I tried to make sales?
  • What can I do better?

A big part of it was I was still getting to know the area and the people. And because I was taught as a child to respect the time of other people, I hated imposing myself upon them. This was keeping me from even attempting to make sales.

Often, instead of trying to make contact with others, I’d sit in my car and drive around town. I could do that for hours it seemed.

I needed to figure out a way to get my butt out of the car and knock on doors. And to keep myself honest along the way, I kept a log of the where I went, the doors I knocked on, and responses given to me. It kept me very honest.

Setting the Goals

At the time, I was knocking on an average of 3 doors an afternoon. In many cases, people weren’t home (67% of the time), told me they weren’t interested (18% of the time), listen to me for five minutes before saying “no thank you” (7% of the time), asked me to come back at a later time (4% of the time), act like no one is home but hear them behind the door (2%). Two percent of the time, people would invite me in to listen to my spiel.

Goal #1: knock on more doors.

To this time, I had made less that 20 presentations to actual customers (this isn’t including the people I presented to in order to work on my skills). I hadn’t made any sales to this point, either. Not good at all.

Goal #2: make at least 1 sale a week.

Find a Reinforcer and Punisher

For each goal, it’s good to have at least one reinforcer and punisher. For either to be effective, they need to have value for the learner. The reinforcer for Goal 2 was easy – the money from my commission would be the reinforcer. But, Goal 1 would be a bit trickier.

You may have noticed that I have a wide variety of interests. Because of that, I’ve read a lot of different books and magazines and such, which has led to having a head full of trivia. I love trivia! At the time, there was a company that sponsored a trivia lotto – you could buy a pack of 100 questions for 10 dollars, and based on how well you did, you could win case and prizes. Who doesn’t like cash and prizes? That, my love for a good beer gave me a few ways to go.

For Goal 1, I set up a multitiered reinforcement plan. For every door I knocked on, I could play one trivia question. If I made contact with a person, regardless if I made a presentation or not, I could answer three. If I made a presentation, I could answer five. If I made a sale, I could answer 10. Then, if I made five door-knock attempts, I could have a beer with my supper that night.

If I didn’t make any attempts through the course of the afternoon and early evening, my punishment was that I had to write myself a letter asking why I couldn’t do the job. You know, we are our own worse critics.

Implementation and Results

I started my plan on a Monday in mid-June of 1988. By the end of the first week, I had exceeded my goals in making contact – but still hadn’t made a sale. Through the next three weeks, I had no problem achieving goal 1 – but goal 2 was elusive. However, by the time I did make my first (and only) sale, I realized a few things.

  1. I was getting more confident approaching doors and talking to people.
  2. It was getting easier to get out of the car.
  3. My plan worked partially, but, it still helped me get out of my bubble.
  4. I’m not good at door-to-door sales.

Even though my plan partially failed, the process works well.


Think of a behavior you have that you’d like to change and form a Behavior Modification plan. Since this is a case study, I’m not going to have you go through the actual process. Instead:

  • Identify the behavior
    • When does it manifest?
    • How will you track it?
    • Why that behavior?
  • Set at least two goals – one short term, one long term.
  • Identify reinforcers and punishers
    • Describe the value of what you choose
    • Lay out the schedule of reinforcement and punishment
    • Describe what’s going to keep you honest
  • Describe the implementation process and results.


This will be worth 20 points.

10 points will be for the description of the behavior and the model you develop.

7 points will be for the quality of writing – grammar, spelling, clarity.

3 points will be for giving another classmate constructive feedback on their post.

-Follow his direction


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