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A brief primer on Behaviorism – don’t be afraid…

This past month I was shocked when I received the June issue of the Atlantic in the mail and the cover read, “THE END OF TEMPTATION: How the creepy science of behavior modification is reshaping our desires.” WTF?! The end of temptation? The creepy science of behavior modification? Reshaping our desires? I am a behaviorist and I am used to people not fully understanding many behavioral principles and much of Skinner’s work, but the Atlantic? Really?

Then I started to read the article (actually titled, “The Perfected Self”) by David H. Freedman and I started to calm down a bit (overzealous marketers must have been responsible for the cover). The piece actually provides a fairly balanced representation of Skinner’s work. However, there are still a few things that we should review – so here goes.

First, the introduction to the article states, “Skinner’s ideas are making an unlikely comeback today, powered by smartphone apps that are transforming us into thinner, richer, all-around-better versions of ourselves. The only thing we have to give up? Free will.” Damn. Really? Give up free will? This is an unfortunate repetition of a common misunderstanding of Skinner’s work. So, don’t worry folks, you can apply behavioral modification techniques without giving up free will – in fact this type of work has been very well-developed to help thousands of people with autism lead more fulfilling lives.

So, why are people so scared about their free will? It might be part semantics and part fear. The semantics part comes from the fact that most behaviorists talk about behavior “coming under the control of stimuli.” So, if I want to teach my dog to sit by showing her a treat, she might not initially sit all the time. However, if I repeatedly show her a treat (present the stimulus) and then give her the treat when she sits (reinforce the behavior); and importantly, not give her the treat when she doesn’t sit, over time she will (and indeed has) develop the habit of sitting when I show her a treat. As behaviorists we would say that her sitting behavior has come under stimulus control (of the treat). Now bear in mind that she has not relinquished any “free will.” In fact, she will often not sit for a treat if there are alternative reinforcers available, such as when we are outside and there is a squirrel nearby…

Which leads us to our second point regarding choice, free will, and fear - what should we really be concerned about here? Skinner’s work and behaviorism was perceived as threatening because people incorrectly thought that the demonstrations of how at external stimuli influence our behaviors meant that we no longer had any choice or that we had given up our control or free will. This is not true, and in fact, a better understanding of such behavioral principles allows us to use them to our advantage (see examples of this in the fascinating work being done by Brian Wansink and colleagues). Moreover, this irrational fear of how we might use behavioral techniques to our advantage ignores the fact that major corporations and food marketers have already developed similar techniques to get us to eat their garbage. Think for a second about all of the advertising, rewards programs, coupons, rebates, product placement, celebrity endorsements, etc. etc. that you see and hear every day. Have you ever thought about how many stimuli that you encounter on a daily basis that have been specifically designed to persuade you into behaving in a certain way? Conversely, do you want to design your own environments and your own stimuli to encourage you to do the things that you would actually like to do? If so, welcome to the science of behavior.

Lastly, let’s cover some of the basic principles of behavior modification so we have a common vocabulary and can avoid any confusion at the outset.

Operant (or Skinnerian) conditioning involves: 1) the presentation of a stimulus (could be a treat like the above example, an advertisement, driving by a fast food restaurant, or just walking in the door after work); 2) followed by a behavior; 3) followed by a consequence (another stimulus). This is distinct from classical or Pavlovian conditioning in which there is no consequence of the behavior or action. In Pavlovian conditioning, an conditioned stimulus (e.g., a bell ringing) is paired with an unconditioned stimulus (e.g., food presentation) such that an unconditioned response to the food (i.e., a dog salivating) comes to be associated with the bell ringing. When this happens, the salivation is now said to be a conditioned response to the bell and classical or Pavlovian conditioning has occurred. To get an idea of the potential strength and duration of classical conditioning, ask a former smoker if there are any sights, smells, or places that still make them want to light up a cigarette and see what they say. Make sure to note the (likely fond) look on their face as they recall those associations.

But, back to operant conditioning. There are three major ways in which operant conditioning occurs: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment.

Positive reinforcement occurs when the stimulus presented after the behavior increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. An example of this is the presentation of the treat to the dog after she sits. Giving the treat right after she sits increases the likelihood that she will sit again when I show her another treat. Praise might also serve as a positive reinforcer in this regard.

Negative reinforcement occurs when the removal of a stimulus after the behavior increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. So, if I

This embarrassed dog would like to know why she has to wear these beads

was a person who made my dog wear a silly outfit that she would prefer not to wear (because such behavior is embarrassing to the dog and to the owner), but I removed the outfit whenever she sat down, over time this would increase the likelihood that she would sit down (because dogs, like humans, prefer not to look silly). Note that reinforcement (positive and negative) always involves the increased likelihood that a behavior will occur, which is not to be confused with…

Punishment occurs when the presentation or removal of a stimulus decreases the likelihood that a behavior will occur again. Scolding or yelling at a dog would represent a punishing stimulus if it followed a particular behavior and decreased the likelihood that the behavior occurred again. Anyone who is familiar with the law (or children for that matter) should have a basic understanding of punishment and why it is not a very effective method for behavior modification. This is the conclusion that Skinner came to by the end of his career and it is largely due to the fact that individuals subjected to punishment often simply try to avoid the punishing stimulus (e.g., don’t get caught, sneak out when grounded) as opposed to not engaging in the behavior that a person is trying to discourage. Punishment is not a good way to effectively change behavior for the long-term.

So, we hope to have provided the basics of behavior modification and operant conditioning here. The science of behavior deserves a resurgence and we here at Dan’s Plan will champion that effort. Don’t fear behavioral modification. By learning about these principles and putting them into practice, you won’t have to give up any rights or your free will, but you might learn a lot about how stimuli in your environment shape your behavior.

Tragedy to Triumph: The book All Things Caregiver

Author Tory Zellick

Recently, I was introduced to author Tory Zellick through Robb Wolf, who is a mutual friend and author of the New York Times Bestseller, The Paleo Solution – The Original Human Diet. After getting a chance to speak with Tory, I was really impressed by her story and by the book she authored – The Medical Day Planner. She was kind enough to let us interview her for the Dan’s Plan blog. Welcome Tory!

Please tell us the history Behind The Medical Day Planner:

When most eighteen-year-olds were off exploring new college campuses, making new friends and going to their first toga parties, I was attending college, but living at home and acting as the primary caregiver for my mother who had breast cancer. I was eighteen years old when my mom was diagnosed; she was forty-four years young. After about a year filled with chemotherapy treatments, radiation, a double mastectomy and reconstruction, my mom was told she was in remission, at which point I took it upon myself to get the heck out of town and move to Hawaii. Two years later, almost to the day, I received a call from my dad telling Mom’s cancer had metastasized to her spine, ribcage and pelvis. The prognosis was grim – I left Maui as quickly as I had left California two years prior and resumed my role as caregiver.

It was a six-and-a-half year process all together before Mom finally lost her battle to breast cancer in 2009. Through those years we learned the hard way that each patient and caregiver team is completely responsible for being their own advocate. Being organized and tracking one’s own care can truly make all the difference in the world when it comes to making health-related decisions.


So, how did the The Medical Day Planner  come to be?

Shortly after Mom passed away, my brother, my dad and I packed our backpacks and purchased one-way tickets to Bangkok, Thailand, with no anticipated return date. It was our intention to spend quality time with each other and truly work through our grieving process as individuals and as a team.  The day before my twenty-fifth birthday, I found myself in quite a funk. I look back now and realize “25” is only a number, but at the time I was disappointed in myself. I had a ton of “ideas” as to where my life would be at twenty-five; college degree, married, white picket fence, and all the other things that come prescribed in the unrealistic Book Of Life.

It was the night before my twenty-fifth birthday in Haad Mae Haad when I began to truly reflect on the journey our family had been on for over six years; how unorganized and overwhelmed I had been at eighteen and how proactive we had all become by the time the journey was over. It was in that moment that the outline for The Medical Day Planner was designed.

Over the next few months, while backpacking Thailand, I would jot notes about this project in my journal.  Now, finally, after over three years, the project has come to fruition.


What are a few of your goals for the book?

According to AARP, there are over 44 million unpaid caregivers in the United States. That is an alarming number! Not to mention the countless patients who are healthy and lucid enough to care for themselves. Needless to say, everyone probably knows someone who could use this book.  That being said, it is my hopes that medical staff, physicians, nurses and other practitioners recommend this book to individuals at the beginning of diagnosis. The Medical Day Planner is a guide to help and individual, with any ailment stay organized through their treatment process. I had no idea what types of information where important to track at the beginning of our journey. Things like medication discontinue dates seemed like information that should be in the physician’s records – and they were, but only in the prescribing physician’s records.  As one continues down the road of treatments and procedures, the amount of practitioners involved increases, and not ever practitioner communicates with one another. Be your own advocate.

The Medical Day Planner give the user a fill-in-the-blank guide to tracking physician information, medications, treatments, procedures, hospitalizations, appointments and a 52-week day planner, it becomes a guide for very necessary conversations.  It helps the reader bring up topics such as end-of-life care options, including what the patient’s final wishes are in regard to treatments, advance directives, and burial. It also gives the reader advice on how to build a caregiving team; including but not limited to an attorney, CPA, insurance broker and other caregivers.  And finally, The Medical Day Planner offers helpful tips on how the caregiver can continue to care for themselves.



It is so impressive when someone is able to turn tragedy into triumph, like Tory has. The is nothing more painful than losing a loved one. It is true strength to face tragedy so directly in order to helps others navigate similar situations with less pain and hassle. Thank you, Tory. You are a hero!

Think of those in  your life who could benefit from this book. Consider sending them a copy from Amazon right now, or forward these links below so that they know about this important resource.


Facebook: allthingscaregiver

Twitter: @AllThingsCrgvr



CORE Foods – A story about commitment and food

CORE Foods  is a food-product company we admire. They make great products and they do business in a highly ethical, transparent, mission-driven fashion. We recently had the opportunity to ask Krista Lampe, co-founder and COO, a few questions about their business and products. Keep reading, I think you’ll be impressed.


Tell us about the mission of your company?

Krista Lampe, COO and co-founder, Core Foods

At CORE, our mission is to make food of uncompromising quality that benefits our whole world.  As a not-for-profit company we are able to separate our profits from our food.  We reinvest all our proceeds into the quality of our food, our community, and the planet.   This means customers trust us to give them honest nutritional guidance and health suggestions as well as maintain the highest quality standards for our food.  Since our owners don’t pocket the profits, it means we can be transparent and held accountable for everything we do.

I always take a CORE Food bar with me on mt. bike rides; they are uber delicious! Talk to us about how you achieve such a high quality product.

EVERYTHING is considered when we select suppliers for our ingredients. Our cost of ingredients per CORE Meal is one of the highest per ounce in the industry (more than 4x higher than typical nutrition bars).  If you price out the cost (ounce for ounce) of purchasing the same ingredients used to make a CORE Meal at your local health food store (yes, you can buy every single one of our ingredients at Whole Foods), you will find that making our product yourself costs 1.5x more than the amount we charge per CORE Meal.

1.     We look for the highest quality.   All our ingredients are 100% organic.  Our ingredients are grown on small, independent family farms.  This means less pests, less chemicals, better soil and higher quality. Since we aren’t working with big farms, our ingredients are not contaminated and don’t sit in big warehouses for a year or more before being used. This means from the time the farmer harvested it, to the time you eat it, our product and its components will never be more than a few months old. Living food is fresher and healthier.

2.     We look for companies that are pushing the envelope and making socially responsible decisions.  Suppliers like Victor Organic, the world’s first organic raisin grower, and Artisana, the leader in the charge against FDA nut pasteurization laws, are just two examples of companies that we see as leaders in high quality food and socially motivated business.  Even the “larger footprint” companies we source from (like Tera’s Whey), work with local dairies that have free range, antibiotic free, organic cows that happily graze the pastures of the mid-west. Tera’s green facility is one of the most innovative in water conservation. Our commitment to quality extends to quality testing where we test everything from the solubility of our ingredients to the gluten content.

3.     For the few ingredients that must be grown internationally, we source from domestic importers that require fair trade and ensure environmentally sustainable best practices are being followed. For example, we source our cacao only from countries that don’t allow child slave labor, and our vanilla beans from countries where vanilla farming is not effecting local ecosystem destruction.


We interrupt this interview to bring you a tail of two bars.
Let’s compare the ingredient list of a CORE Food bar to another bar, the Pure Protein bar. 

CORE Foods Warrior Raw Almond Raisin Bar: 100% organic whole oats, raisins, whey protein, ground spices.

In comparison to:

Pure Protein, High Protein Bar, Chewy Chocolate Chip: Glycerine, Malitol, Calcium Caseinate, Water, Hydrolized Bovine Gelatin, Whey protein isolate, Casin, Palm and Palm Kernel Oils, Milk Protein Isolate, Whey Protien Concentrate, Sorbitol, Contains 2% or less of- Milk Protein Concentrate, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Milk Mineral Concentrate, Skim Milk Powder, Yogurt Solids, Canola Oil, Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Soybean Oil, Monoglycerides, Mono- and Di-glycerides, Magnesium Oxide, Soy Lecithin, Ascorbic Acid, Copper Gluconate, Ferric Orthophosphate, di-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate, Maltodextrin, Sucralose, Tumeric Oleoresin Color, Biotin, Salt, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Beta-Carotene, Calium D Pantothenate, Retinyl Palmitate, Phytonadione, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Manganese Sulfate, Riboflavin, Mixed Tocopherols, Thiamine Mononitrate, Cholecalciferol, Soy Protein Isolate, Potassium Iodine, Cyanocobalamin, Chromium Chloride, Folic Acid, Sodium Molybdate, Sodium Selenite.


Aside from making quality products, CORE Foods is also very busy working to make the world a better place. Your company is a Certified B Corporation. What does this mean?

B-Corporations are certified through the B-Lab, a non-profit certification and advocacy group.  B-Corps are dedicated to doing  “better business.”  As a member of the certified community, it means we meet a certain minimal threshold in our internal standards for social, environmental, and community welfare.   As a certified member, we are a leader in a movement of companies seeking true corporate responsibility and sustainability.

We took our social responsibility seriously before we became “Certified B.”  Since our founding, CORE Foods has been committed to:

  • 0% Financial Gain (all profits are reinvested in the company, community or planet)
  • Offsetting our carbon usage through carbon credits so we maintain a zero carbon footprint.
  • Paying employees living wages
  • Capping executive salaries


Corey Rennell. Founder, CEO, Core Foods

What is a very brief summary of the certification process?

To be certified B, companies must receive an 80 or higher on a 360 degree company review.  The review is a combination of a substantial survey that summarizes business practice and policy and a lengthy interview with B-Lab representatives.  Companies also face recertification every two years.  For most B-Corps being a B-Corp means you are willing to make sacrifices on profit in order to do things in a way that resonate with the golden rule.


Where can people find your products?

We’re available at most natural food stores in California, Nevada, & Arizona, and in select markets around the US.  Check out our store locator to see the full list. No store near you? We can cold ship our products anywhere in the US.



Thank you Krista for taking the time to answer our questions. Mostly, thank you for the serious commitment you’re making towards your mission. It’s rare to find a company that is so dedicated to doing the right thing every step of the way – kudos!

Follow them on Twitter here: @COREfoods

Join their Facebook page here:

Check out Corey’s blog column at the Huffington Post:

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