Can Thoughts and Feelings Be Counted, Measured, and Changed?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Written by Rick Kubina

All people travel a path which forms their life’s journey. Along the way each person has a unique set of experiences that shape their behavior. Outside observers can witness many events that come to impact a person. Examples include:

  • A mother complimenting her daughter for using manners.
  • A dog barking and chasing at a child on her way to school
  • A man telling a colorful joke and his date laughs

Figure 1. Telling a joke and its public effect

The science of behavior, behavior analysis, has uncovered laws of learning through years of experimentation (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). The systematic observation of behaviors drove the understanding that behavior operates in a lawful manner just like all other parts of nature people understand (e.g., physics and motion, chemistry and chemical reactions).

However, an entire set of experiences takes place throughout each person’s life that no one else can see: thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Surprising to many, the founder of contemporary behavior analysis, B. F. Skinner, not only recognized the need to understand private events (i.e., thoughts, feelings, and emotions) but to embrace and study them.

For example, Skinner wrote: “No entity or process which has any useful explanatory force is to be rejected on the ground that it is subjective or mental. The data which have made it important must, however, be studied and formulated in effective ways (Skinner, 1964, p. 96).

Precision Teaching has done just that —  provided a means for people to bring private events into the public. And the only requirements involve a pinpoint, a timing device, and counter.

Inner Behavior

Abigail Calkin championed the study of private events from a Precision Teaching perspective. She used the term “inner behavior” to note that what happens inside the skin does not differ from what happens publicly. In others, public and private behavior both fall under the domain of the science of behavior.

Calkin (1981) first examined inner behaviors as a case study where she counted seven pinpoints. Her counts focused on positive and negative feelings about herself. After Calkin defined what a positive and negative feeling meant, or an inner behavior, she then went about self-counting.

The procedure involved counting positive and negative inners for 1,000 minutes or about 16 and 1/2 hours, a full waking day. After counting for nine days, Calkin could then observe the record of her inner behavior on the Standard Celeration Chart. She made her inner behavior public by visually displaying her counts.

Calkin would proceed to intervene on negative and positive inners by using a one-minute timing intervention. She would sit down for one minute and write as many positive things about herself as she could.

The upshot? Across time the frequency of positive inners rose while the frequency of negative inners greatly declined. As Calkin wrote: “I considered the project completed because I felt good about myself for the first time in my life. Twenty-two of the 24 positive thoughts I wrote on my list in During 1 had now become positive feelings. Fourteen of the 18 initial negative thoughts and feelings were no longer there” (Calkin, 1981, p. 20-21).

More Research, More Positive Inners

In recent decades, a number of articles appeared that demonstrated the constructive application of examining inner behavior.

McCrudden (1990) charted his inner behavior so he could “learn, discover, and change” feelings that bothered him. As his self-counting and self charting project unfolded a salient feature of measuring inner behavior became apparent: “…it respects the learner enough to allow his/her to define an inner according to his/her own unique criteria” (McCrudden, 1990, p. 19).

In another published article Cooper (1991) described how self-pity, agitated thoughts about his mother-in-law, and strong thoughts about sexual activity for other women threatened to end his marriage of 25 years. The inner behavior project involved a one minute intervention accelerating the number of loving thoughts and feelings about his wife and family members.

Intervening on private events jeopardizing a marriage required immediate help. Having a method such as the one minute timing procedure along with self-counting inners provides a remarkable boon to those suffering. The relief and humor come though in Cooper’s summary comments: “Destructive thoughts and feelings are no longer a personal or potential family problem. Best of all, I did not have to pay a marriage counselor” (Cooper, 1991, p. 45).

Action

Many disciplines of psychology and the sub-discipline of counseling offer interventions to help people with disturbing private events. Different methods of counseling range, for instance, from Adlerian and Cognitive Therapy to Psychoanalysis and Eclectic Counseling.

The Precision Teaching method developed by Calkin (1981) for addressing private events or inner behavior has grown considerably. Applications have expanded to helping senior citizens (Cobane & Keenan, 2002; Kubina, Haertel, & Cooper, 1994), people with depression (Patterson & McDowell, 2009), and college students low self-esteem (Clore & Gaynor).

Changing the self counted frequency of inners or private events does not mean an associated public behavior will also change. A Precision Teaching discovery of 1,000,000s of charts show behaviors occur independent of one another (Lindsley, 1992). Nevertheless, making the private public shines light on a topic in desperate need of study. The 14 articles below show the growing literature and database for the study of inner behavior.

The promise of successfully, systematically, and scientifically changing inner behavior has wide scale appeal. Many disorders that cause great personal pain fall within the purview of inners: post traumatic stress disorder, bulimia, depression, and generalized anxiety disorder. Therefore, pinpointing behaviors that occur within one’s own skin, self counting such targets, and then placing them on a Standard Celeration Chart offer an elegant solution to helping people.

References

Calkin, A. B. (1981). One minute timing improves inners. Journal of Precision Teaching, 2(3), 9-21.

Clore, J., & Gaynor, S. (2006). Self-Statement Modification Techniques for Distressed College Students with Low Self-Esteem and Depressive Symptoms. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 2,314-331.

Cobane, E. F., & Keenan, M. (2002). A senior citizen’s self-management of positive and An Examination of Inner (Private) and Outer (Public) Behaviors negative inner behaviours. Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration, 18(2), 30-36.

Cooper, J. O. (1991). Can this marriage be saved? Self-management of destructive inners. Journal of Precision Teaching, 8(2), 44-46.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis(2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Kubina, R. M., Haertel, M. W., & Cooper, J. O. (1994). Reducing negative inner behavior of senior citizens: The one-minute counting procedure. Journal of Precision Teaching, 11(2), 28-35.

Lindsley, O. R., (1992). Precision Teaching: Discoveries and effects. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25(1), 51-57.

*McCrudden, T. (1990). Precision teaching: feeling fixer. Journal of Precision Teaching, 7(1), 19-20.

Patterson, K., & McDowell, C. (2009). Using precision teaching strategies to promote self-management of inner behaviours and measuring effects on the symptoms of depression. European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 10, 283-295.

Skinner, B. F. (1964). Behaviorism at fifty. In T. W. Wann (Ed.) Behaviorism and phenomenology (pp. 79-97). Chicago: University of Chicago.

*While the pdf article has a footer that says “Journal of Precision Teaching, 1989, 7, 19,” the article appeared in the 1990 Volume 1 issue.