Behavioral and Social-Cognitive Approaches to Forming Habits

Behavioral and Social-Cognitive Approaches to Forming Habits

Introduction

I will analyze the development and influence of one of my bad habits.

I will use the behavioral personality theory to explain why I have this habit as well as describe components of social/cognitive theory to explain why the habit formed.

I will also develop a plan that applies operant conditioning to change this habit.

Lastly, I will choose between the behavioral and social/cognitive theories to define which best explains my personality

As a person ages they develop patterns of growth that are similar and dissimilar to others. The patterns that are developed at times can be described as habits. As a child develops the habits that they form can disappear or change when adulthood is reached. If the habits do not dissipate over time it can be attributed to developmental damage or a traumatic event. Although, it is difficult to determine the origination of certain long term habits that are ongoing through adulthood, the investigation as to why they exist and the effects they have on an individual has been studied by psychologists for decades. I will analyze the development and influence of one of my bad habits. I will use the behavioral personality theory to explain why I have this habit as well as describe components of social/cognitive theory to explain why the habit formed. I will also develop a plan that applies operant conditioning to change this habit. Lastly, I will choose between the behavioral and social/cognitive theories to define which best explains my personality.

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Bad Habit – Nail Biting

Been doing it for a very long time

Do it when I am nervous

Deep in thought

Stressed out

Brothers do it as well

There is one bad habit that I have had since childhood which is nail biting. I have been nail biting for as long as I can remember and I do it for many different reasons. I notice I do this when I am bored, nervous or stressed. I can be watching television or sitting in the classroom and I could be seen biting my nails. I believe I started this habit by mimicking my brothers. I noticed that they do the same thing. As a child we could all be on the couch watching television and you would see at least one of us biting on our nails.

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Bad Habit – Nail Biting

My girlfriend hates it

I don’t want my son to pick it up

Happens unconsciously

This is something that my girlfriend hates and tells me all the time to stop. I try to stop when I notice I am doing it, but sometimes it happens unconsciously. I don’t want my son to pick up this bad habit either so I am continuing to work on this. It happens more when I am stressed out or am nervous.

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Why I Continue and Have I Tried to Break This Habit

Attempted to break the habit

Try to stop when I realize it

Chew gum to keep mouth busy

I have attempted to break this habit many times with minimal success. Once I realize that I am biting my nails I will stop. The longest I have gone without biting my nails is a month. One of the things I have tried that has helped me stop is keeping my mouth busy. When my mouth is busy I do not tend to have the need for my fingers to be close to my mouth. I have started chewing more gum, which has helped a lot but not curbed the urge completely. Hopefully with more concentration and dedication I can beat the habit and stop nail biting once and for all.

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Behavioral Personality Theory

Conditioning happens during environmental interactions

Linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Half a dozen of all adolescents bite their nails.

“Behaviorism, also known as behavioral psychology, is a theory of learning based upon the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning” (Cherry, 2013). Conditioning happens during environmental interactions. It is the belief of behaviorists that a person’s response to stimuli in the environment shapes our behaviors. “Nail biting also known clinically as chronic onychophagia, is a compulsive habit of biting ones fingernails or toenails during periods of nervousness, stress, hunger or even boredom. It can also be a sign of a mental or emotional disorder” (Ginesi, 2007). Psychologists have linked this behavior to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These habits can be unconscious behaviors that are repeated by the individual during certain situations. “About half of all adolescents’ bite their nails, but more than three-

fourths of those will give up the habit by age 35” (Brayden, 2009).

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Behavioral Personality Theory

Nervous habit that starts at childhood

Obtained by observing others biting nails typically

Other transfer this habit to others unconsciously

This is a nervous habit that comes from circumstances during the developmental stages of childhood that were either upsetting or anxious for the person. When nail biting begins as a child it typically is because they observed this action from someone they are close to such as a family member. This person who is an adolescent or adult unconsciously engages in this act and transfers this habit to the child subliminally. This habit is very common and it practiced by many. I believe that this theory suggests that watching my brothers bite their nails for years during different emotions is why I developed the same habit.

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The Social/Cognitive Theory

“posits that learning occurs in a social context with a dynamic and reciprocal interaction of the person, environment, and behavior.” –Bandura

This theory considers behavior within social environments

These newly learned actions become hard to break after blind repetition

The Social/Cognitive theory “posits that learning occurs in a social context with a dynamic and reciprocal interaction of the person, environment, and behavior. The unique feature is the emphasis on social influence and its emphasis on external and internal social reinforcement” (Bandura, 1991). This theory takes into consideration the way people obtain and maintain behavior, in their social environment. “Through feedback and reciprocity, a person’s own reality is formed by the interaction of the environment and one’s cognitions. In addition, cognitions change over time as a function of maturation and experience (i.e. attention span, memory, ability to form symbols, reasoning skills). It is through an understanding of the processes involved in one’s construction of reality that enables human behavior to be understood, predicted, and changed” (Bandura, 1991). From what I understand about this theory that my surroundings along with someone with influence on my life, such as my brothers, are the cause of my nail biting.

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Operant Conditioning

Relies on aversion therapies to break habit

Tried nail varnishes to stop habit

Need to train myself to not bite my nails

Operant Conditioning relies on aversion therapies as ways to attempt nail biting occurrences by trying to make the behavior unpleasant by using negative re-inforcers. Growing up my mother tried many times to use nail varnishes that are bitter tasting in hopes to stop this nasty habit. This worked temporarily but I eventually built up a toleration, and even like for the taste. As an adult you have to discipline yourself to apply the varnish in hopes of breaking the habit. Now that I am an adult I have to train myself in certain situations and places to not bite my nails because of the awkward or strange looks I get from others.

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Behavioral or Social/Cognitive Theory

The Behavior theory best explains my personality

My brothers and I act like our father

Our father taught us how to be the men we turned into today

There have been many explanations regarding personality over the last few decades. I believe that the behavior theory best explains my personality and why I so some of the things I do. There are many family members that tell my brothers and I that we all act alike and can see all of our actions remind them of our father. He is a good man that I looked up to all my life and taught me how to be a man and a good father to my son. He taught me how to be a strong man and that I can accomplish anything that I put my mind to.

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Conclusion

From research that I have done I found out that nail biting is more common than I realized and that it is a very difficult habit of nervousness to break.

This type of habit is problematic and in order to break it requires lots of attention and dedication. When trying to break this habit alone it is easy to stop and go back to the behavior too soon.

When attempting to change or break a nail biting habit it is a good idea to seek assistance from a friend, relative or professional that is willing to be helpful and supportive.

References

Brayden, Robert. (2009). Nail Biting. Retrieved from http://www.childrenshealthnetwork.org/CRS/CRS/pa_nailbite_pep.htm 

Cherry, Kendra. (2013). What is Behaviorism? Retrieved fromhttp://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/f/behaviorism.htm 

Ginesi, Sabrina. (2007). Reasons for Biting Nails Onichophagia. Retrieved fromhttp://www.livinghealthy360.com/index.php/reasons-for-biting-nails-onichophagia-53144/ 

Klatte, K. M., & Deardorff, P. A. (1981). Nail-biting and manifest anxiety of adults. PsychologicalReports, 48(1), 82.

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