Behavior Change Slow or Impossible if Process is too Difficult

Texas Tech professor says interventions or processes must have buy-in from consumer to be effective.

Carter says those looking to change their habits must accept the change willingly.

Carter says those looking to change their habits must accept the change willingly.

With statistics showing that somewhere around 30 percent of people who make New Year's resolutions will ditch them by the end of January, it may seem the odds are against long-term behavior change. But common sense and the concept of social validity dictate that the process for change must be one the participant accepts willingly and that the procedure for behavior change be simple, said a Texas Tech education professor.

Stacy Carter, an assistant professor in the College of Education's Special Education Program, is the author of several research articles on social validity and a recently published a book, The Social Validity Manual. This is the only book ever published on the topic of social validity, which has relevance for several fields of study including psychology, education, social work and health services.

"The traditional way of looking at a behavior change is seeing how effective a treatment is," Carter said. "Researchers spend a lot of time looking at statistical validity and reliability of the treatments they develop. Social validity is a much more practical look that researchers sometimes ignore."

Carter said researchers may develop a treatment that has very high statistical validity and is very reliable, but if it is too difficult or time consuming, then consumers won't use it or practitioners won't use it in their everyday practice. If it's something that is going to cause them a lot of effort, or is difficult to implement, then they probably are not going to use it for long.

To measure social validity, the behavior must be observable and measurable.

"The goal is to make people happier with the treatments they are receiving," Carter said. "If you're happier with what you're doing and it's effective in all these different ways, then you're more likely to use it and everyone's going to be happier – the person who has to implement it, the practitioner, the person receiving the treatment."

Carter offered this example. "What you see a lot in school settings would be off-task behavior – students not working on what they're supposed to be working on. A typical intervention for that might be something like a token economy – where they get rewards or points for staying on task. That would be something that a teacher could do very easily. They could keep track or even have the student learn to keep track themselves. Also to have their peers monitor them as well." For the arrangement to work, the teacher, student and student's peers would all have to have buy-in to the system.

Carter also is working as a consultant with a group of researchers from three German universities. Researchers from Goethe University, the German Institute for International Research and the Sigmund Freud Institute provided support for Carter to travel to Frankfurt in November. He made a presentation and collaborated with researchers who wish to incorporate his "Distributive Model of Social Validity" into their research studies. These German researchers focus on longitudinal research projects within educational settings and hope to improve their social validation procedures.

The Social Validity Manualhas been awarded the College of Education Faculty Book Award and currently is nominated for the President's Faculty Book Award university-wide.


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College of Education

The College of Education at Texas Tech University offers a full range of programs, including 9 doctoral degrees, 10 master's degrees, two bachelor's degrees and numerous specializations which can lead to careers in public or private education as teachers, professors, administrators, counselors and diagnosticians.

Programs in the college are housed in three departments.

The Department of Curriculum & Instruction offers advanced degrees that prepare leaders, researchers, and professors with the knowledge, skills, and practical application experience needed to analyze, construct, and evaluate curricula in ways that create optimal learning conditions for all learners. Language and literacy, bilingual education and STEM education are just a few of the specializations offered by C&I.

The Department of Educational Psychology & Leadership consists of a diverse group of academic programs that equip students with a comprehensive knowledge of learning, motivation, development, and educational foundations. The disciplines of counseling and school psychology are housed within the EP&L department as are programs to prepare future college administrators, primary and secondary school and district leaders, as well as practical and academic educational psychologists.

The Department of Teacher Education focuses solely on teacher preparation, ensuring that teacher candidates are ready for the classroom on day one. The Teacher Education Department is home to TechTeach, an innovative teacher preparation program that puts teacher candidates into public school classrooms for a full year and requires that students pass teacher certification tests prior to entering the classroom. Various paths to teaching careers, including fast-track distance programs statewide and alternative certification options, are also housed in this department.