Friday, February 24, 2012

Good News Friday!

I have commented more than once on what I see as the great potential of Social Media for helping orgnaizations in the human services field become more efficient.

Initially, we at Imagine! looked at Social Media as great tools for better engaging our stakeholders – to keep them informed and to initiate conversations. We are also starting to see that, if creatively applied, Social Media can even help deliver services that improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Here’s a great example of that in action.

Zach Maple, a Behavior Therapist working for Imagine!’s Behavioral Health Services department, recently completed a case study entitled “Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior from Caregiver Attention in the Social Networking Website Facebook®.” That’s a fancy way of saying that the study looked at how Facebook could be used as a tool to lessen the frequency of inappropriate attention seeking behavior.

The subject of this study was a 26-year-old individual with a diagnosis of acquired brain injury. The subject was a frequent Facebook user, and often used Facebook as a platform for making attention seeking, inappropriate posts such as threats of self harm, solicitation of sex, and inappropriate false reporting of caregivers.

Zach recruited three “confederates,” individuals who were already established as caregivers and were also friends of the subject on Facebook. The confederates were provided simple instructions on how to engage with the subject on Facebook for a period of time.

In section “BL” in the graph below, confederates were given no instructions as to how to respond to any posts by the subject to set a baseline for the study. This provided the information of how often the subject engaged in both appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Then, the confederates were asked to make responses to all appropriate posts made by the subject, but not to any of the negative, attention seeking posts (sections Tx I in the graph below). In section Tx II, the confederates refrained from making any comments on posts.

The difference that the actions of the confederates had on the behavior of the subject was astounding. Note that the graph below shows how the number of appropriate posts (the red line) rose dramatically during the study period, while the number of inappropriate, attention seeking posts (the blue line) grew at a much slower rate, and in fact seemed to have reached a plateau by the end of the study period. This change in the level of appropriate versus inappropriate posts continued even when the confederates were not responding to any posts during the time frame labeled “Tx II” below.

It is not hard to imagine that this reduction in inappropriate attention seeking behavior on Facebook could have parallels in the world outside of cyberspace. Much of what we do at Imagine! involves providing the individuals we serve with the skills and tools they need in order to engage in their communities successfully. Learning that communicating inappropriately will not be the best way to receive attention online is certainly a lesson that could be applied to an individual’s behavior offline as well. This study also shows that a few people providing an appropriate response to an appropriate behavior can make a difference.

Many thanks to Zach for developing and implementing this creative, impactful, and potentially far-reaching study. Thanks also Zach’s supervisor, Dr. Jeff Kupfer, for supporting and assisting Zach on this study.

Click on the graph to get a better view.


  1. Nice study, Zach. Are you publishing it? If so, when and where?
    Sam Towers

  2. I am in the process of writing up the research and hope to have it ready for publication in a couple months. Dr. Jeff Kupfer and I have discussed a couple options for submission, but have not made any firm decisions on a specific journal.
    -Zach Maple