How to change a culture.

How to change a culture.

Photo by Pratham Gupta on Unsplash

Article by Angela Cathey

We work with companies to improve their cultures. I’ve noticed this term, “culture” inspires a bit of awe and confusion in both business and behavioral analytic communities.

Business leaders have come to a relative state of agreement that “culture is king” (source unknown) and “culture eats strategy for breakfast. (Peter Drucker)” . There’s less agreement about what culture is and if it is indeed changeable at all.

What is “culture”?

From a behavior analytic perspective, culture isn’t so ambiguous. It’s an emergent quality that arises from the interaction of behaviors. This may sound ambiguous but it makes what business often sees as vital and difficult to change, changeable.

Culture isn’t an amorphous cloud.

It’s the psychological effect of a collection of behaviors. It’s the product of people behaving together or over time (see Houmanfar, Rodrigues, & Ward, 2010) for a more thorough analysis. The import point is – it’s changeable and it’s the product of your interpersonal behavior, biases, policy decisions (laws, strucutres, etc.), and verbal behavior. With everything we do, we show others what we see as important, unimportant, desirable, and undesirable.

It sounds like a lot – but changing a culture is a matter of making different choices. It’s creating an environment that is purposeful, well-designed, and makes the choice to appropriately reinforce or reward what truly ‘matters.’ By looking at the collective behaviors of a culture, a business, and the experiences that relate to them (e.g., psychological safety), we can use behavior analysis to move key switch points and change a culture for the better.

If you’re thinking now, so what’s the answer – what do I do?

1. Start with the realization that the answer is dependent on the problem & desired endpoint. There is no single solution. Thankfully, their are methods and practices that have great evidence supporting them, these include behavior analysis and measurement.

2. With the endpoint you seek in mind, measure actual behavior and how it influences this endpoint.

3. Apply behavior analytic principles to create change and support that change.

4. Continue to measure and apply – real behavior change requires teaching skills to fluency and supporting the use of those skills. It’s not as complicated as it may sound – but it requires real thought and application of science to meet your goal.

What to know more about how to change culture? Contact us for a free consultation.


Houmanfour, R., Rodrigues, N. J., & Ward, T. A. (2010). Emergence and metacontingency: Points of contact and departure. Behavior and Social Issues, 19, 78-103.

Ten books to help you create a better world.

Ten books to help you create a better world.

In this post, I recommend 10 books that show us how we can create a better future. These books are perspective shifting. They organize the chaos of our world and provide new direction for creating a better world.

  1. More Human: Designing a world where people come first by Hilton, Bade, & Bade

This book begins with a poignant story of the clash between humanity and red tape. A mother on a plane with a three-year-old is near removed as a disruptive passenger. Why?  Her child had to use the bathroom while the “fasten seatbelts” sign was lit.

This book is about designing better systems so we treat each other more humanely. If you’ve ever wondered, “Why the does everyone seem so content to blindly hurt each other?” This one’s for you. Design is a tool that can support our strengths or weaknesses. Choose wisely and enjoy.

  1. Blindspot by Anthony Greenwald

Blindspot is a book about our thinking biases and the influence that these have on our everyday behavior. Though I’m a behavior analyst I’ve also worked closely with cognitive psychologists and used tools like the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and its’ more behaviorally grounded counterparts.

I’d hope that everyone would read this book and take the biases to heart. Stop and notice exactly how much of our world we simply perceive and react to “as if.” Though the ability to automatically categorize our lives and react accordingly is essential ability to reduce the chaos around us to understandable level –  it often blinds us. In Blindspot, Anthony Greenwald talks about the most common effects of these blindspots and some of the ways in which we can detect our blindspots. Using this knowledge and stepping to behavior analytic theory – we can gain a better grasp of how to step back from the pervasive influence of assumption in our lives.

  1. Social Physics: How good ideas spread – lessons from a new science by Alex Pentland

Alex Pentland is a former MIT Media Lab leader. The MIT Media Lab is a veritable gift to cultural and scientific innovation. Those that have led or “grown-up” in this innovation stronghold have spawned technologies that now touch every aspect of our lives.

One these innovations that is quickly taking hold in the business world is, Alex Pentland’s People Analytics. People Analytics is a specific variety of Data Science that follows from “Social Physics,” essentially a Big Data application of sensor technologies (badges, passive mobile data, etc.) to understanding social behavior dynamics. Pentland term’s these dynamics “Social Physics.” Social Physics specifically tends to deal with how structural (i.e., architectural, ergonomic, or human factors) factors influence human interaction patterns.

Here we’re seeing the science of how organizations work at the level of placement of the water cooler, or speed of preferred communication forms, results in change in interaction patterns between employees. It’s a look at the many things that go unnoticed but yet deeply influence how we interact with each other.

  1. The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan

The Social Labs movement is near and dear to us. This book, and the movement it describes, addresses a movement and methodology that is being used to solve complex social problems. It’s a look at the types of institutions we’ve traditionally used to solve issues that matter, their failings, and a manifesto for creating hybrid organizations that marry social entrepreneurship to participatory applied research methods. 

  1. People Analytics by Ben Waber

This volume further elaborates on what the “new science” of People Analytics has found in its first few years of Big Data research in organizations. The methods used by Waber and other’s (“People Analytics”) are new in the technological sense, but simply make contingencies previously unobservable more observable.

This methodology is potentially a great growth area for behavior analysis. People Analytics as a framework has traditionally focused on large-scale predictive analytics (i.e., they’re using an analytic strategy that relies on averages and unfortunately can speak little to adjusting for better outcomes in the evolving context). Behavior analysis, used in coordination with these types of live-feed data collection methods allows the behavior analytic practitioner to take a look at behavior at micro and macro levels, and cater change efforts to their function at multiple levels. This allows for a more powerful, flexible, and scalable ‘medicine’ than simple predictive models for change management.

  1. Honest Signals: How they shape our world by Alex Pentland

This is another volume further that describes methodology that can be used to measure contingencies ‘typical’ in interpersonal interactions. Though cultural and individual differences may be ‘averaged’ out by the traditional analytic strategy used by People Analytics practitioners the measurement is useful for behavior analytic purposes.  Some of the topics of interest included in this volume include understanding how vocal tone, body positioning, and other ever present social variables tend to influence others.

  1. The Time Paradox: The new psychology of time that will change your life by Phillip Zimbardo

Phillip Zimbardo was made famous by his early work with the Stanford Prison experiment. Unfortunately, few may be aware of his more recent work which has focused much more on the effects of one’s predominantly used time perspective. If you’re more familiar with Relational Frame Theory (RFT) and temporal deictics you’ll find the response sets described around “future focus”, “past focus”, and “present focus” interesting.

  1. The Nurture Effect: How the science of human behavior can improve our lives and our world by Anthony Biglan

Anthony Biglan writes this inspiring text. Biglan hails from a more familiar behavior analytic background. His work on how the behavioral sciences can influence large-scale change is popular. As a speaker, you can often catch him at the Association of Contextual Behavioral Science conference. In this text, he describes, among other treasures, how we can improve education practices and how traditional corporate marketing practices may be influencing our society. This is an easy and inspiring read.

  1. Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. James Fowler & Nicholas Christakis

This book takes a look at the social structures of influence in our lives. As social creatures, humans are highly interconnected. We are influenced by the ideas, choices, and verbal behavior of those around us. The connectedness of our society only provides a better platform for emotion, health behavior, and ideas to spread across groups. This book reviews a great deal of research about the kinds of habits, choices, and moods that spread across our social networks and the conditions under which they optimally spread.

  1. Contagious: Why things catch on by Jonah Berger

Contagious may seem like an unlikely favorite for a behavior analyst but again we’re looking at conditions and platforms under which information and emotion spread and influence. This book focuses on marketing influence. Media, social media, and now the algorithms that rank this material, now greatly influence our lives. This book does a great job of being a fun introduction to a wealth of research about the conditions that lead to viral spread of ideas. For the behavioral analyst, there’s an interesting blend of focus on basic human responses to aversive and appetitive conditions and their interaction with environment.

The Power of Choice: An interview with Benji Schoendorff, MSc

The Power of Choice: An interview with Benji Schoendorff, MSc


“Benji, you’re a celebrated trainer of ACT and FAP. You travel the world teaching others to be more aware, mindful, and courageous in how they work with each other.”

“Though you’ve had a great deal of impact on many in psychology, by teaching evidence-based interventions, your work has ventured more and more into changing larger contexts as well.”

“Can you tell me a bit about this focus and how it has brought you further into consulting?”


“My personal mission, and that of our institute, is to slip psychological flexibility in the water supply.”

“What I mean by ‘psychological flexibility’ is the ability to choose to do what matters, even in the presence of obstacles. It is about choice.

“Individuals who are ‘stuck’ feel they don’t have a choice, and the same is true of teams and organizations—and of course of individuals within teams and organizations.”

“We all know that businesses and organizations are sitting atop a hard to tap gold mine: employee engagement. I believe being able to choose to do what matters in your professional life just as much as in your personal life is the key to both well-being and to fully engaging in our lives and work. After all, we spend a good chunk of our waking life working.”

“Yet paradoxically, our present organizational structures largely deprive us of choice. Is it a wonder that employees aren’t as engaged as they could be?”

“What we’ve discovered is that using the applied principles of modern behavioral science, there is an easy and intuitive way to increase ‘psychological flexibility’ in the workplace and in organizations. It’s a simple and intuitive model we call The ACT Matrix and I believe it has the potential to revolutionize our working lives as much as our personal lives.”


“That’s wonderful Benji. For those who haven’t met you, can perhaps tell us a bit more of what is it like to work with you personally in personal or organization psychological flexibility initiatives?”


“In the spirit of 360-degree feedback, I’d invite you to ask my team members and past clients. I think they would say that I am creative, passionate, values-driven, flexible, fun to work with and always human.”

“My working style is highly participatory and I love to make work fun! I seek to create contexts in which people can best contact their resources and make their own best choices. I believe every person can make their own choices and I know how to inspire folks to feel that way.”

“As a leader, I trust my team members to make decisions, preferring to advise than dictate. As a consultant, I connect with my clients’ unique needs and perspectives to help them identify original and above all workable ways to reach their goals.” 


“I see the flexibility and awareness in the way you pursue life itself. It is takes a deep commitment to innovation and humanity to truly walk the path you espouse so fully.”

“I’m excited to be working with your team more closely these days and enjoying the development of technology and change with you.” 

“Can you tell us what your strengths and ‘learning edges’ are?”


“The learning edge feels tricky..”

“I have many learning edges. The one I am working on at the moment is to further develop my ability to integrate the technology you are developing into my consulting work to help clients track how effective working with The ACT Matrix can be to foster team and individual productivity and empowerment.”

“I am also working on being more compassionate and validating, more consistent in my work, more responsive.”


“Those are certainly worthwhile goals and lately, it seems like you’re all over the world putting these into place while doing workshops? How do you see this work developing as you put ‘psychological flexibility into the water’ so to speak?”


“Well, I am trying to write a lot of blogs and of course I give lots of trainings, nearly one a week, and we are getting more trainers to work with our institute, though that’s barely started.”


“That’s wonderful! I am looking forward to seeing more from you & CPI.”

“Tell me, is there a leader, idea, or experience that has most influenced you on your path?”


“The person that has most influenced me in my work is without question Steven Hayes, the main founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or Training (ACT). Steve is an absolute trailblazer, and the sweetest human being, combining the sharpest intellect and a deeply human heart. His stroke of genius was to see that human suffering and getting stuck are not “pathological” processes, but an inevitable byproduct of how our minds work. He set about to understand what processes could account for the difficulties we experience and what to do so we can more easily get unstuck and do what’s important to us.”

“That makes ACT translatable to the world of business and organizations.”

“In my organizational work, I am so grateful to Kevin Polk and colleagues who developed The ACT Matrix, a simple and intuitive way to bring the power of Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) to the world of business.”

“Finally, I want to mention Dennis Bakke’s books, “The Decision Maker” and “Joy at Work”. Bakke built a 47,000-strong multinational Electricity-generation company by radically devolving decision-making to his employees. His core idea is that if we treat people as fully responsible adults in the workplace by letting them make all the decisions that concern them, they will fully engage in their work. For Bakke as for me, this doesn’t just make perfect business sense, it is a core value for the full realization of our human potential.”



“There’s been a great deal developing across fields that I believe will change the face of our workplaces in the future.”

“As our lives have become more connected by technology, I believe we’ve become more disconnected in our lives. Workplaces offer these wonderful microcosms of our lives and networks, both socially and technology… In an era of constant movement and short job tenure the characters in our lives are ever changing, connected-but-not… our lives and well-being increasingly seem tied to our ability to co-exist productively, sustainably, and cooperatively with others who may not know us or understand us well. This is both exciting and terrifying. We have the chance to grow as a species, but will we choose to? I believe that if there are people like you, who choose to walk the more challenging paths, we may have a chance.”

“Thank you so much for your time, Benji. I look forward to seeing more and more of your work and deepening the ties between our organizations.”

Benji Schoendorff, MSc is a renowned Acceptance and Commitment trainer. He is joint owner of the Contextual Psychology Institute (CPI) with his wife Marie-France Bolduc. They, and their beloved son, travel the world doing their part to put “psychological flexibility in the water supply.” Benji is a deeply principle-driven clinician and trainer. His work is highly informed by Relational Frame Theory (RFT) and behavior analysis.

In addition to the many trainings that Benji does to increase the skill of individuals, Benji and the Contextual Psychology Institute (CPI) also work to improve contexts by training organizations to better engage with the difficult in the service of reaching their goals and values. 

Angela Cathey, MA

Angela Cathey, MA

Owner, Consultant, Scientist, Speaker

Angela Cathey is a behavior analyst and data scientist. She is a published author, blogger/writer, speaker, and futurist. Her master’s and doctoral training specialties focused on change measurement and promotion of effective emotional and social regulation with groups and individuals. Cathey’s change measurement experience includes use of Natural Language Processing, eye-tracking, and mobile technologies to both learn from and inform diverse perspectives. She uses data to understand the important ‘switch points’ in systems and provide customized data-driven change strategies to groups and individuals. She works with leaders and organizations as a business strategist, consultant, and technology developer. As a consultant, developer, and strategist, Cathey is known for her ability to help leaders and groups clarify their purpose and build industry disrupting strategies. Her passion is in creating ‘nudge’-based strategies that nurture change in leaders and cultures. She believes that real change occurs when we create tools that are engaging, easy to use, and allow people to better connect with themselves and others. Angela is owner of an independent culture and performance enhancement firm, ENSO Group.

5 ways technology and behavioral science can create a better world.

5 ways technology and behavioral science can create a better world.

I ran across another article today about how society is slowly devolving, in part, due to technology. This is becoming a more common refrane. Tech leaders are frequently quoted saying they don’t allow their children to play with the devices they create.

The ‘tech elite’ are onto something and we are just coming to terms with it in many sciences. We’ve known for many years, in the behavioral sciences, that the environments we exist in influence us – for better or worse.

We like to think of our experiences simply and tend to perceive only those consequences closest to us temporally, spatially, and socially. We “like” and emoticon ourselves into disconnection as we feel the bright shiny connection in front of us, and in the process, we miss the people sitting next to us.

We as a society are overwhelmed, over-worked, and driven, most logically, to distraction in the screen faces we carry with us. In the Behavioral Sciences, B. F. Skinner (1986) wrote “What’s wrong with the Western World” and described the impact of modern work processes on how we as human’s function. The summary, “distance from the impact of our behaviors, is not a good thing.”


In a hyper-connected world – we have customized technologies around natural human desires. We buy ‘shiny’ distraction avoidance tools. As tech has evolved, it has also come to offer us other tools shaped around human values and goals. We now have FitBits and Alexa to help us live better lives.

The missing piece; however, is that the solutions themselves are one-sided. We have learned to embrace algorithms to help us choose movies (Netflix, etc.) and quickly tag pictures of our friends (Facebook), but we distrust technology in its ability to help us truly improve ourselves.

We offer a few ideas from the nexus of Behavioral Science and Technology, to help humanity connect to itself again.

1) Build technologies that adapt to intended purpose. 

When we build technologies without awareness to our own essential humanness we inadvertatly reinforce our worst behaviors. People will always be attracted to ‘shiny’ things, they will want quick rewards AND we need to plan technologies for exceptional #humanexperience right along with our #USERexperience.

More on that, below.

2) Build technologies that help us engage other perspectives. 

In a hyper-connected world, we’ve become sucked into news loos and algorithm echo chambers. We see the news that we “like,” not what we need to see about our own worlds. Unawareness, we are silently told, “is bliss.” It is not, we are progressively more lonely, less able to self-regulate, more depressed, more anxious… and of course, given all this we stare at our phones more unable to handle perspectives that differ from our own.

The solutions we typically hear for this are “put down your phone” and, in deed, this is one solution but only short-sighted. The long-term route is to appreciate that we are human, flawed and beautiful all the same.

If we want to pick a realistic way forward, maybe we should begin to use technology to help us see our individual strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives in relation to one another.

3) Build technologies that make us aware of our strengths and weaknesses, in RELATION.

Remember the human tendency to seek out the ‘shiny’? We tend to look for easy answers, for the “best” answer. What we miss is how to balance ourselves in relation to our world, and those in it. We then design FitBits, Alexas, and solutions around the easy answers that inevitably lead us in the wrong direction. Any healthy behavior can go wrong taken to full tilt, and yet we persist… chasing easy answers.

One way that we can address this is to begin to focus on answers in relation to context. Contextual technologies allow us to notice what the best answer is for the current situation, environment, and purpose.

4) Use Intelligence Augmenting technologies to alert us of when we are falling into our patterns of dysfunction, bias, and unawareness.


Intelligence Augmenting technologies are one possible way forward here. Our patterns of avoidance, bias, and unawareness are no secret. The Behavioral Sciences have been using studying how to reduce mismatch between person and environment, and labeling it “psychopathology” for many decades.

It is time that we begin to work across lines to find solutions that bring us together.

5) Build technologies through “open” paticipatory design methods.

One key to advancing us must be opening the doors to participatory development. We need to recognize human motivations and flaws in our processes. If “tech” is not working, it is because “we” are not working towards a common perspective in what we create.

In this world, there are few easy answers; however, one I’d stake my work on is:

We as humans need to work on embracing our natural complexity and celebrating our strengths. If technology can help us do that, we should be working towards that purpose together.

Angela Cathey, MA, LPC

Angela Cathey, MA, LPC

Director Enso Group, Trainer, & Consultant

Angela is experienced in leading and coordinating the operations of research and intervention teams. She has a master’s in Clinical Psychology from the University of Houston – Clear Lake. She has trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) extensively. She has been well-trained in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. She has also trained extensively in treatment of trauma, utilizing Prolonged Exposure (PE) and obsessive-compulsive spectrum conditions, utilizing Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

Human attachment: The ‘why’ of connection.

Human attachment: The ‘why’ of connection.

Attachment and Cooperation

When we want to improve upon our ability to reach any mutual goal that involves more than one person- businesses, sports teams, government, and even 1 on 1 personal relationships- attachment theory can be particularly helpful in improving human cooperation.

Attachment Theory is more complicated than any one article, but when we focus on the process of building human relationships and day to day interacting, it becomes clear that this process is largely responsible for how we feel about ourselves, which then influences how we interact with others. That is to say: Self-image = how we feel others perceive us.

Our gift as human beings is our ability to fit into and contribute to social groups effectively, without rocking the preverbal boat by interacting in ways that are not conducive to the interaction ‘style’ of the group. If we imagine our brains as computers that need to be programmed so that we can have a final ‘version’ of ourselves by adulthood, it would then be obvious that our childhood, adolescent, and early adulthood experiences have much to do with developing our social style, via developing our self-image.

While genetics do predict certain predispositions to certain ways of behaving, let me dispel the myth that genetic traits predict who we are all the way throughout adulthood and drive humans to become ‘fixed’ beings. This is nonsense, and backed by what we call ‘neuroplasticity’: the ability of the brain to adapt to the input that it is receiving at every moment throughout our lives. If we change our environment, the people we interact with, or if bad things happen to us, our brain literally creates NEW neural pathways to adapt to new circumstances. Why does it seem like we can become ‘fixed’? Well, the more we continue on in our current circumstances, these neural pathways become stronger, which causes whatever behavior we are doing to become more of habit and way easier to do- rather than change.

One thing, however, is fixed. We all have the same capabilities for honest, compassion-driven communication, but unfortunately evolution does not care about our abilities to be compassionate, rather, our continuing to breathe, eat, sleep, and reproduce. This does not necessarily require compassionate interaction. Thankfully, the world of psychology is a developing field that can provide us various loopholes to develop a more compassionate style of interaction, and this starts with understanding various “styles” of interacting, how they came to develop, and what this means for our interactions with others as adults.

Want to learn more about behavior and management?

But Broderick- one theory or train of thought cannot possibly capture all of the intricacies of human interaction. While this may be true in other fields, in the psychology business it is literally our job to research the most economical ways to understand human behavior across many individual research participators- which means broadly-based theories that capture most of the complexities of the human psyche. The best way to go about this is to develop theories which allow us to understand human behavior under an umbrella.

For the purposes of this article, “Attachment Theory” is one (very well-researched) theory that captures one of the most seemingly complex facets of human life: Social interaction. Your brain has created neural pathways based on a “social learning history”, that biases your behavior, and types of people you interact best with, based on these pathways. Our self-image is largely the result of interactions with caregivers, which then predicts how we interact with other humans, which then obviously influences the peer groups we are likely to seek out in adolescence/early adulthood, which then predicts the types of interpersonal relationships and communication styles we have as adults.

I’m sure you can see how these events snowball on each other- and the brain literally creates and strengthens neural pathways that it uses the most. So, it is likely that your caregivers had similar styles of relating to each other, which was the result of THEIR caregivers interacting with them in a particular way, and so on and so forth. Then, you likely lived with and interacted with your caregivers throughout childhood and teen years (maybe along with similarly behaving siblings) – literally shaping the way your “social brain” views other people, as well as how you view yourself in relation to others.

Let us get more specific with different “Attachment Styles”, how they tend to develop, and what implications they have for you NOW. You know, practical stuff. Now, most people will say (and correctly so) “I’m already good enough at listening to others and expressing myself.” While we are all “good enough” and special snowflakes, we are all nothing more than a tightly-packed bundle of lazy neurons that have been coded to respond to certain types of people in very fast, yet predictable ways.

Let us run through each style and its learning roots, while keeping in mind that 1) problematic “styles” do not necessarily translate into a psychological disorder, and 2) these are a best ‘fit’ of styles, and people may even demonstrate a mix of these:

Want to learn more about systems of behavior?

1) Secure:
Speaks for itself. In interpersonal interactions, people with a secure attachment style are likely perceptive, open, emotionally available, and effective at sharing thoughts and feelings with others. When these individuals are asked about their childhood, they have a detailed, balanced memory. This is likely due to their caregivers’ willingness to ask about their thoughts and feelings while growing up. The message communicated from age 0-18? You matter. In infancy (and adulthood) these individuals seek closeness with others, and is easily soothed when emotionally upset. They likely have a positive view of themselves.

2) Avoidant:
In interpersonal interactions, people with an avoidant attachment style are likely distant and rejecting of others. When asked about their childhood, these individuals likely have poor recall, are rejecting, dismissive, and either minimize or idealize their childhood experiences. This is likely due to their caregivers’ rejecting of their child’s thoughts and emotions, likely because the caregivers also had their thoughts or feelings rejected during childhood. Without this space to safely express their thoughts and feelings from age 0-18, these individuals perceive that others do not care about their thoughts or feelings, and may take this to mean that sharing such information is not important. As adults, these individuals may not seek closeness with others, and may try to hide interpersonal dissatisfaction from others, because: my thoughts and feelings weren’t an important thing when I was being programmed by caregivers, so I have underdeveloped neural pathways to allow me to do this. These individuals likely deny emotional experiences, and appear to be “logical”-which allows them to fool themselves into believing that their feelings truly do not matter, because they literally lack a neurological capacity.

3) Anxious-Ambivalent:
In interpersonal interaction, people with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style likely ebb and flow between secure and avoidant attachment styles, which can be very confusing for the anxious-ambivalent person as well as those they interact with. When asked about their childhood, they either idealize or are enraged about their experiences, have pressured speech with a lot of verbal output, and seem preoccupied- this sounds confusing, and this is because they themselves are confused as to how they feel about their caregivers, because their caregivers sent messages to them that were inconsistent regarding their child’s worth. Specifically, their caregivers were inconsistently available when the child was emotionally upset, or when they wanted to express their own thoughts and needs. These individuals likely seek proximity and closeness to others, but are not easily calmed down when upset. From age 0-18, these children are sent the message: you can never know for sure whether or not others will accept or reject you. This develops interpersonal insecurity and hypervigilance of rejection cues- via biological pathways that are strengthened over time. They may even seek a lot of reassurance that others do indeed like them.

4) Disorganized:
In interpersonal interactions, people with a disorganized attachment style are likely disorienting and frightening to others. Now, disorganized attachment styles are typically due to traumatic childhoods, so if this sounds like you, I would highly recommend seeking clinical services- even just as a consultation (besides, we could all use therapy). Throughout childhood interactions, these individuals were often driven toward seeking proximity to their caregivers, but their caregivers’ emotional or physical abuse likely caused much conflict for our evolutionary drive toward seeking out our caregivers (e.g., I want safety and love from the people who hurt me). As you can imagine, memories of childhood interactions are likely disoriented, maybe involving poor memory due to intense traumatic interactions and conflictive behavior. The message from caregivers which translate into day to day interactions? I cannot seek closeness to others or they will definitely hurt me. I’ll let you fill in the blanks regarding how this type of person might view themselves as an adult.

Now that we understand attachment theory, using it to improve our relationships involves your favorite thing: pain-staking effort! Kidding. But seriously, altering your long-standing neural pathways is as difficult as it sounds. Fortunately there’s this thing called neuroplasticity, which allows us humans to alter our neural pathways by making conscious decisions related to social interactions, responding, rather than reacting.

In the next article, I will discuss ways to improve our interaction ‘styles’ to improve our ability to authentically communicate with others we need to cooperate effectively with. This will focus on creating neural pathways to:

1) truthfully express one’s thoughts and feelings to others,
2) listen with the intention of clearly understanding the thoughts
     and feelings of others,
3) develop a willingness to be changed by what we hear when listening to the thoughts and
     feelings of others.

Broderick Sawyer, MA

Broderick Sawyer, MA

Guest Author

Broderick Sawyer, M.A., is a fourth year doctoral candidate in the clinical psychology PhD program at the University of Louisville, currently completing his predoctoral internship at SUNY Stony Brook University. Broderick’s main interests are the psychological effects of interpersonal and systemic oppression on historically oppressed groups (e.g., racial/ethnic minority, LGBTQ, women). Further, he is interested in the use of mindfulness meditation and compassionate communication to improve working relationships, job satisfaction, and productivity within systems and organizations.
Broderick has published several book chapters and peer-reviewed articles surrounding differential symptom expression in ethnic minority clients, and provided clinical lectures for mental health and medical professionals on racism-related stress and trauma, and connecting with minority clients. In his work with psychotherapy patients Broderick is integrative, blending mindfulness and acceptance, functional analytic, compassion-based, psychoanalytic, attachment, Buddhist, developmental, systems-based, neuroscientific, and Afrocentric theories. In addition to research, clinical, and lecturing activities, Broderick has made several radio appearances to discuss minority mental health, and enjoys writing blogs which address common behavioral problems faced by individuals and organizations through the lens of different psychological theories.


Cozolino, L. (2014). The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing                      social brain (Norton series on interpersonal neurobiology). WW Norton & Company.

A behavioral scientist’s take on providing effective instructions for optimal learning.

A behavioral scientist’s take on providing effective instructions for optimal learning.

Teaching is a large part of any leader’s position. Whether academic or business, most leader’s are promoted due to others’ perceptions that they have mastered a domain of knowledge. Unfortunately, most leaders are simply assumed to then know how to impart this knowledge on their supervisees/mentees.

Effective teaching is an art and science. Here we’ll discuss guidelines for understanding, breaking, up and imparting your knowledge of complasks for others.

The first step is to understand the task:

Task analysis (TA) is a method for identifying and documenting the process of task completion. Many different methods exist for documenting and analyzing task completion (Tofel-Grehl & Feldon, 2012).

Minimalist Instruction
In its most fundamental form, TA instruction is merely a list of steps.

    1. Read task analysis (TA) article
    2. Do your own task analysis (TA) of a complex task
    3. Present simple step-by-step instructions for task to learnerSimple is important because new learners to a complex task will tend to become frustrated and give up.In addition to helping you impart skills to learners, task analysis (TA) can be a way of discovering how to optimize the efficiency, productivity, or safety of a task

Interested in learning more about Behavioral Science?

Task Analysis for Instruction Optimization

Instruction optimization involves a data-based assessment of instructional effectiveness. Any material or stimulus intended to prompt, guide, or teach a response can potentially be improved if you take the time to identify what components promote the effective behavior.



From an operations perspective, optimally effective instructions have many benefits such as:

  • Saving time during onboarding and training
  • Reducing the frequency of errors
  • Maintaining knowledge retention over time

Best Practices in Task Analysis Instruction
Learning outcomes and performance can generally be enhanced for most learners by:

  • Presenting steps in smaller pieces (Crist, Walls, & Haught, 1984)
  • Limiting jargon, presenting images, and providing examples (Graff & Karsten, 2012)
  • Presenting images of and describing stimuli that should trigger the response and the expected outcome(s) of a correct response (Tyner & Fienup, 2015)
  • Updating instructions frequently to match task changes (Dixon et al., 2007)

Though these general guidelines should improve the effectiveness of your instructions, optimizing ultimately requires measuring and adapting to what creates the best outcome for your learners.

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Remember, though examining the effectiveness of your instruction formally may initially require some time investment this cost should be offset by improvements in efficiency and reduction of errors.

Other considerations may also inform whether the expected ROI justifies the cost, including the risk or danger of the task, the criticality of accuracy, the acceptable threshold for errors, the cost and time required to correct errors, and the qualitative experience of those who are performing the task.


Task analysis is a method for investigating and documenting the process of completing a task that is prevalent across diverse industries. TA instruction is robust for training and guiding task performance, and many best practices have been published to improve its effectiveness. Robust methods from behavioral science are also available to further enhance instructional effectiveness and efficiency.

Bryan Tyner, PhD

Bryan Tyner, PhD

Optimized Behavior Technology

Bryan Tyner is a behavioral scientist and research-strategy consultant. He has a PhD in behavioral psychology from The Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY). His research on instructional design, assessment, and optimization has been published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and the Journal of Behavioral Education. Bryan is the founder of Optimized Behavior Technology, an independent research agency that consults on the use of research methodology and data analytics to inform business operations, strategy, and product development. More information about his services is available at 


Crist, K., Walls, R. T., & Haught, P. A. (1984). Degrees of specificity in task analysis. American Journal of Mental Deficiencies, 89, 67-74.

Dixon, M. R., Jackson, J. W., Small, S. L., Honer-King, M. J., Mui Ker Lik, N., Garcia, Y., & Rosales, R. (2009). Creating single-subject design graphs in Microsoft Excel 2007. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 42, 277-293.

Gero, J. S. & Mc Neill, T. (1998). An approach to the analysis of design protocols. Design Studies, 19, 21-61.

Graff, R. B. & Karsten, A. M. (2012). Evaluation of a self-instruction package for conducting stimulus preference assessments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 45, 69-82.

IBM SPSS. (2016). Multivariate linear regression in SPSS. IBM Support. Accessed April 19, 2017 from

May, J. & Barnard, P. J. (2004). Cognitive task analysis in interacting cognitive subsystems. In Diaper, D. & Stanton, N. A. (eds.) The Handbook of Task Analysis for Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 295-325). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Tofel-Grehl, C. & Feldon, D. F. (2012). Cognitive task analysis-based training: A meta-analysis of studies. Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making, 7, 293-304.

Tyner, B. C. & Fienup, D. M. (2015). The effects of describing antecedent stimuli and performance criteria in task analysis instruction for graphing. Journal of Behavioral Education, 25, 379-392.

Yu, R., Gero, J., & Gu, N. (2015). Achitects’ cognitive behavior in parametric design. International Journal of Architectural Computing, 1, 83-101.

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