Towards a reinforcement-sensitive multiple risk behavior change model

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Current Research in Behavioral Sciences


Background: The personality-behavior relationship, predictive accuracies of personality measures, and their links with behavior change require a systematic examination. Drawing on the Hippocrates-Galen-Avicennic tradition and the works of Pavlov, Skinner, Mowrer, Eysenck and Gray, this article proposes a three-dimensional behavioral typology and outlines a schema for multiple risk behavior change. It is argued that behaviors, as explained by psychophysiological processes, reinforcement-sensitive behavioral systems and social learning, shall be differentially conditionable by appropriate punishment- or reward-oriented messages. Method: A cross-sectional survey was designed to explore the hypothesized role of psychobiological personality dimensions in smoking, alcohol-use and substance-use behaviors. Two standard personality inventories and a behavioral questionnaire were administered to a sample of college students. Descriptive, correlational, and Receiver Operating Characteristic analyses were performed. Results: Extraversion and Psychoticism showed positive correlation with Reward-sensitivity but inversely correlated with Neuroticism and Punishment-sensitivity. High Extraversion and high Psychoticism scorers, thereby Indulgent and Delinquent Behaviors, were more likely to show appetitive associations. Psychobiological personality measures that reliably classified target groups with an area under the curve greater than 0.70 included Extraversion for heavy smoking, drinking and regular drinking, Psychoticism for heavy smoking, regular drinking, substance-use and heavy substance-use, and Reward-sensitivity for heavy smoking, substance-use and heavy substance-use. Conclusions: The findings have validated part of the posited behavior change model, as tested. Psychobiological personality measures indicated reasonable discriminative abilities and potential use in evaluating problem behaviors in individuals and groups, notwithstanding the value of mixed assessments and data integration. The next step is to investigate a wider mix of behaviors and test effectiveness of reinforcement-oriented message interventions in multiple risk behavior change which will have implications for health communication and social marketing.

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