Using Behavioral Experiments To Test Your Beliefs | Psychology Tools (2023)

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cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)

Human beings don’t see the world as it is – we all ‘filter’ what we see based on our prior experiences and beliefs. Sometimes our ‘filters’ are so entrenched that they distort how we see the world in ways that are harmful for us. For example, Jennifer believed so strongly that she was unlovable that despite having a devoted partner she was never able to feel safe or happy. In therapy it is often necessary and helpful to examine our (sometimes long-held) beliefs and assumptions. Behavioral Experiments are an excellent way of finding out the truth about our beliefs concerning ourselves, other people, and the world around us.

We all have ‘models’ in our minds of how the world works. Our models are a unique result of our history, experiences, beliefs, and assumptions. The models are a sort of ‘mental short-cut’: one advantage of having them is that they help us to go about our lives without having to think in detail about every single thing that happens to us. One disadvantage is that once our models have formed they are reluctant to change, so they will:

  • pay more attention to information that fits with them,
  • pay less attention to information that contradicts them,
  • ‘squish’ or ‘twist’ information to make it fit.

The result is that we do not perceive the world as it really is. This can cause pain and suffering.

Emma was often criticized and told off as a child, and her sister was their parent’s favourite. As an adult she lives with the belief that she is not good enough, despite being a loving mother and conscientious employee. She is quick to spot her flaws and mistakes, and assumes others do too. She often puts herself down thinking “it is better to get there first before someone else does”. Emma has blind spots for her achievements and positive qualities. She is so focused on potential failure that she can not celebrate her successes. She finds it hard to feel happy for long – and her default state is to feel anxious.

One practice in cognitive behavioral therapy is to examine our beliefs and assumptions, and put them to the test. Many people hold beliefs that are not supported by evidence, and allow these beliefs to dictate how they live their lives. It can be extremely liberating to let go of beliefs and assumptions that have been holding us back.

By the end of therapy David’s opinion of himself was completely different: “I can’t believe that I thought that about myself, you know? I can see it now, but I was blinkered before and it was making me miserable”.

There are many different kinds of behavioral experiments. All have the same purpose – they all allow us to explore or test the truthfulness of beliefs about ourselves, other people, or the world around us. These may be old beliefs that you have had for a long time, or new beliefs that you don’t feel sure about.

(Video) Creating a psychology experiment with OpenSesame 3.1

Discovery experiments

Sometimes we have ideas about ourselves, other people, or the world, but we only have a tentative grasp of why we think that way. Discovery experiments can be a helpful way of learning more about a situation, even when we don’t have a clear hypothesis about what the result will be.

Alice had been abused by her stepfather when she was a little girl. She often felt ‘dirty’ and believed that she was ‘contaminated’ by what her stepfather had done to her. Her therapist invited her to conduct a discovery experiment using the computer in her office. She asked her to spend 20 minutes searching for information about how the body repairs and replaces its cells. Alice was interested to discover that the body replaces all of its cells every 7 to 10 years. She was reassured by the idea that she was not the same girl who had been abused and found that her anxiety lessened.

Hypothesis testing experiments

Sometimes we have a very clear idea about what we think will happen if we behave a particular way in certain situations. One way of way of testing belief like this to conduct an experiment. We do this the same way in therapy that scientists do in a lab, by:

  1. Making a prediction about what we think will happen (forming a hypothesis)
  2. Carrying out an experiment that will test that hypothesis (more than once if necessary)
  3. Examining the results, and going back to step 1

One way of testing a hypothesis is to do a survey:

Dana believed “other people will think I’m disgusting if they see my surgery scar” very strongly (95%). She and her therapist took a picture of the scar and decided on a quick survey question “What would you think about a person if you found out they had a scar like this?”. Together, Dana and her therapist asked for people’s answers to the survey questions. Dana was surprised to discover that most people would not think anything bad about the person who had the scar. Her belief that “other people will think I’m disgusting if they see my surgery scar” dropped significantly (40%).

Another way of testing a belief is to conduct an experiment:

Dana’s therapist encouraged her to test her beliefs in the real world. Dana still believed that if she showed her scar to people that most would react with disgust. Dana realised that the only way to find out if her belief was true would be to show her scar to people and to gauge their reaction. She decided that in order for it to be a fair test she would need show her scar to 10 people. She predicted that at least 5 would react with disgust, and that she would be able to tell this by looking at the expression on their faces.

(Video) CBT Tools For Anxiety 2 Testing core beliefs

We can approach our beliefs like a scientist approaching a new phenomenon: they are curious and methodical.

Step 1: Identify the belief to be tested

What is the belief that you have identified that you want to test? Write it down in a single sentence. Examples might include:

  • “I can’t eat in-front of people – if I do they’ll think I’m disgusting”
  • “If I make eye contact with people I’ll be attacked”
  • “If I don’t check the door locks ten times before I go out I’ll leave the house unlocked”

Step 2: Rate the strength of the belief

How strongly do you believe this statement? Rate it from 0% (not at all) to 100% (completely, with all my heart).

Sometimes it can be helpful to give separate ratings for how much you believe it with you head (logically), and how much you believe it with your heart (emotionally).

Step 3: Plan an experiment that could test the belief

Common methods of gathering information to test beliefs are:

  • Surveys – asking “do other people believe the same thing that I believe?”
  • Hypothesis-testing experiments – consider the following conversation in therapy:
    Client: I’m sure that if I do X then Y will happen.
    Therapist: How do you know if you never do X?
    Client: I suppose I don’t.
    Therapist: How could we find out?
    Client: I suppose I could do X and see what happens?

Step 4: Identify any obstacles that could make it difficult to carry out the experiment

Is there anything that could get in the way of doing the experiment?

  • If you need people to be around to help you, who could you ask?
  • If it can only be done in a certain place, when can you go there?
  • Are there any safety issues? How could you minimize them?

Step 5: Carry out the experiment

This is the part that will require courage. You may want to have someone with you who can encourage you, and who can remind you why you’re doing this.

(Video) An Experiment by Joseph Campos: The Visual Cliff

Step 6: Record the result

Every good scientist records what happened.

Step 7: Reflect on your results and re-rate how strongly you believe in the original belief now

Once you have done the experiment go back to your original belief. Read it to yourself and then re-rate how strongly you believe in it now (0-100%).

(Video) How To Use CBT Behavioural Experiments

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What is an example of a behavioral experiment? ›

A woman with depression doesn't go to work on days when she feels bad. On these days she stays in bed all day watching TV. Her behavioral experiment involves pushing herself to go to work on days she's tempted to stay in bed to see if getting out of the house improves her mood.

How are Behavioural experiments used in CBT? ›

They are one of the most powerful techniques available to CBT therapists. Behavioral experiments are an information gathering exercise, the purpose of which is to test the accuracy of an individual's beliefs (about themselves, others, and the world) or to test new, more adaptive beliefs.

How do I test my beliefs? ›

The best way to do this is simply to ask, “Why do you believe that?” and then listen. Don't tell them why they're wrong or “parallel talk” and explain what you believe. Figure out their reasons for their belief by asking questions. Then ask yourself if their conclusions are justified by the rationale they provided.

What is a behavioral assessment Definition Tools & example? ›

Behavioral assessment is a structured study and analysis of a person's behavior using various methods like interviews, direct supervision, and self-observation. It refers to the process of observing, explaining, and predicting human behavior with the help of new-age digital tools.

What are behavior research methods? ›

Behavior Research Methods publishes articles concerned with the methods, techniques, and instrumentation of research in experimental psychology. The journal focuses on the use of computer technology in psychological research, stimulus development, and practical data analysis.

What method is most commonly used method in behavioral science? ›

Typical research methods include one-on-one cognitive testing, focus groups, debriefings, expert review, behavior coding and split ballot field experiments.

What are the three types of behavioral measures used in research? ›

Several types of behavioral measures are shown, including: behavioral trace, behavioral observation, and behavioral choice.

What are the 5 components of cognitive behavioral therapy? ›

In CBT, problems are broken down into 5 main areas:
  • situations.
  • thoughts.
  • emotions.
  • physical feelings.
  • actions.

What techniques do behavioral therapists use? ›

Behavioral therapy techniques use reinforcement, punishment, shaping, modeling, and related techniques to alter behavior. These methods have the benefit of being highly focused, which means they can produce fast and effective results.

What are some techniques used by behavior therapists? ›

Some of the techniques that are most often used with CBT include the following 9 strategies:
  • Cognitive restructuring or reframing. ...
  • Guided discovery. ...
  • Exposure therapy. ...
  • Journaling and thought records. ...
  • Activity scheduling and behavior activation. ...
  • Behavioral experiments. ...
  • Relaxation and stress reduction techniques. ...
  • Role playing.
12 Dec 2019

What are 3 major aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy? ›

These strategies might include: Learning to recognize one's distortions in thinking that are creating problems, and then to reevaluate them in light of reality. Gaining a better understanding of the behavior and motivation of others. Using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations.

What are the 4 steps of CBT? ›

CBT typically includes these steps:
  • Identify troubling situations or conditions in your life. ...
  • Become aware of your thoughts, emotions and beliefs about these problems. ...
  • Identify negative or inaccurate thinking. ...
  • Reshape negative or inaccurate thinking.
16 Mar 2019

What are 5 examples of beliefs? ›

Adopt some or all of these beliefs, and your life is likely to change:
  • There is a way. ...
  • Everyone is doing the best they can. ...
  • Failure is a learning tool. ...
  • I can do anything, but I can't do everything. ...
  • Small improvements are enough. ...
  • I don't need to be the best. ...
  • It will all be over someday. ...
  • Good things often take time.

What are the 4 types of beliefs? ›

4 Kinds of Beliefs
  • Meta: beliefs about beliefs.
  • Perceptions: beliefs about how the world seems to be, based on the evidence I have.
  • Opinions: beliefs about how I should interpret reality. ...
  • Predictions: beliefs about how I think things will end up in the future based on what I know now.
11 Jun 2015

Why are Behavioural experiments good? ›

Behavioural experiments are a useful way of testing the effects of coping strategies on symptoms and the beliefs which underlie them.

What are the 5 assessment tools? ›

Assessment Tools: Introduction
  • Rubrics. For assessing qualitative student work such as essays, projects, reports, or presentations, we recommend the use of rubrics. ...
  • Curriculum Mapping. ...
  • Focus Groups. ...
  • Portfolios. ...
  • Structured Interviews. ...
  • Surveys.

What is the most common technique of Behavioural assessment? ›

Interview Method: This is the most common form of behavioral assessment where the psychologist interviews the individual to assess the behavioral changes in the candidate.

What are the types of behavioral tests? ›

There are two types of behavioral assessments: functional and clinical.
  • A functional behavior assessment (FBA) is used to uncover the function of specific behavior, that is to say, the reason the behavior persists. ...
  • A clinical assessment is a tool that is used to diagnose conditions.
24 Mar 2022

What are the 5 behavioral sciences? ›

Examples of behavioral sciences include psychology, psychobiology, anthropology, economics, and cognitive science.

What are the 4 methods we can use for research in psychology? ›

10 research methods in psychology
  • Surveys. Psychologists often use surveys to study the prevalence and causes of mental health disorders. ...
  • Case studies. ...
  • Experimental studies. ...
  • Content analysis. ...
  • Meta-analysis. ...
  • Correlational research. ...
  • Quasi-experiment. ...
  • Naturalistic observation.

What are the 4 types of research methods? ›

There are four main types of Quantitative research: Descriptive, Correlational, Causal-Comparative/Quasi-Experimental, and Experimental Research. attempts to establish cause- effect relationships among the variables.

What is behavioural tool? ›

Behavioral tools are psychological instruments that are used for understanding and interpreting human behavior. Such tools have found many applications in corporate and educational sectors, considering their exploratory and insightful nature.

What methods do psychologists use to study behavior and mental processes? ›

Psychologists employ the scientific method — stating the question, offering a theory and then constructing rigorous laboratory or field experiments to test the hypothesis. Psychologists apply the understanding gleaned through research to create evidence-based strategies that solve problems and improve lives.

What is the instrument used to measure sample of behaviour? ›

An instrument or systematic procedure for measuring sample of behavior is called test.

What are examples of behavioral measures? ›

Behavioral measures examine actions or manners exhibited by the user that are responses to objects or events in the virtual environment. For example, does the user duck if a virtual object is thrown at his head.

What are the three most common behavioral data measurements? ›

There are three basic types of behavioral recordings that are found in the classroom: frequency recording, duration recording, and interval recording (although many other variations are sometimes used for certain purposes).

What are the three C's of cognitive therapy? ›

Helping clients of all ages learn to identify and evaluate unhelpful and inaccurate thinking is a crucial component in Cognitive Therapy. The mnemonic of “The Three C's” (Catching, Checking, and Changing) can be particularly helpful to children in learning this process.

Can I do cognitive behavioral therapy on myself? ›

Many studies have found that self-directed CBT can be very effective. Two reviews that each included over 30 studies (see references below) found that self-help treatment significantly reduced both anxiety and depression, especially when the treatments used CBT techniques.

What are the six types of behavioral theory therapy? ›

6 Types of Behavior Therapy Used by Counselors Today
  • Psychotherapy Treatment. Psychotherapy treatment aims to provide a collaborative, non-judgmental, and supportive environment for clients to talk openly. ...
  • Computerized CBT. ...
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy. ...
  • Hypnotherapy. ...
  • Art Therapy. ...
  • Conclusion.

What are five commonly used therapy methods? ›

Approaches to psychotherapy fall into five broad categories:
  • Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies. ...
  • Behavior therapy. ...
  • Cognitive therapy. ...
  • Humanistic therapy. ...
  • Integrative or holistic therapy.

What are behavioural methods in psychology? ›

Behavioural methods are methods used to study the neural, molecular, genetic or physiological mechanisms that underlie behaviour in humans or other animals (the field of behavioural neuroscience), or methods used to study the psychology of behaviour.

What are three therapy techniques used in psychoanalysis? ›

The psychoanalyst uses various techniques as encouragement for the client to develop insights into their behavior and the meanings of symptoms, including inkblots, parapraxes, free association, interpretation (including dream analysis), resistance analysis and transference analysis.

What are the two types of cognitive behavioral therapy? ›

Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Therapy (CT) Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

How can I practice CBT at home? ›

How to Practice CBT at Home
  1. Fully Focus on Your Thoughts. CBT requires an intense focus on the thoughts that come to mind throughout the day. ...
  2. Schedule Your Day with Manageable Tasks. ...
  3. Relaxation Techniques. ...
  4. Reframe Your Thought Patterns.

What are some behavioral examples? ›

  • Walk at all times. Keep hands/feet to yourself. Be kind to others.
  • Use manners. Be a good listener. Allow others to learn.
  • Respect others/property. Complete assigned. work.
  • Keep space neat. Follow directions. Always do your best.
  • Use time wisely. Be interested. Ask questions.

What is an example of behavioral observation? ›

Examples of behavioral observations that should be noted include: Child's response to the stress of testing, the tasks they evade and the tasks they prefer, and ability to persist and sustain attention to difficult tasks.

What are 3 examples of behavioral traits? ›

13 Behavioral Traits of Successful People
  • Inspiring others.
  • Thinking strategically.
  • Leading change.
  • Learning from experience.
  • Navigating ambiguity.
  • Demonstrating courage and grit.
  • Displaying interpersonal savvy.
  • Being mindful.

What is an example of a behavioral treatment? ›

Other forms of behavioral therapy, such as systematic desensitization and flooding, address fears and phobias which can often include anxiety and panic. Systematic desensitization is a form of exposure therapy that helps target irrational fears through gradual exposure.

What are the 4 types of behaviors? ›

A study on human behavior has revealed that 90% of the population can be classified into four basic personality types: Optimistic, Pessimistic, Trusting and Envious. However, the latter of the four types, Envious, is the most common, with 30% compared to 20% for each of the other groups.

What is an example of a behavioral measure? ›

Behavioral measures examine actions or manners exhibited by the user that are responses to objects or events in the virtual environment. For example, does the user duck if a virtual object is thrown at his head.

What are Behavioural activities? ›

The idea behind behavioral activation is that by deliberately practicing certain behaviors, people can “activate” a positive emotional state. For example, engaging in fulfilling or healthy activities can make someone feel good, which then makes them more likely to keep participating in those activities.

What is behavioral observation assessment? ›

Behavioral observation is a widely used method of behavioral assessment. Unlike other methods of behavioral assessment, most of which rely on people's perceptions of behavior, behavioral observation involves watching and recording the behavior of a person in typical environments (e.g., classrooms).

What are the 4 types of observation in psychology? ›

  • Structured observation.
  • Covert observation.
  • Participant observation.
  • Overt observation.
  • Unstructured observation.
22 Mar 2021

What are the 5 behavioral attributes? ›

These five primary personality traits are extraversion (also often spelled extroversion), agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

What are the three types of behavioral? ›

Three fundamental types of behaviour can be distinguished: the purely practical, the theoretical-practical, and the purely theoretical. These three types of behaviour have three different reasons: the first a determining reason, the second a motivating reason, and the third a supporting reason.

What are 5 examples of behavioral adaptations? ›

Examples of behavioral adaptation include migration, hibernation, learned behavior, alteration in the mode of reproduction, altered feeding habits, and distinct modes of communication.

What are three methods used by behavioral therapy? ›

Three well-known and successful types are thought records, exposure therapy and relaxation training.
  • Thought Records. One of the landmarks of CBT is that patients are given homework after every session. ...
  • Exposure Therapy. ...
  • Relaxation Training.
9 Jan 2014

What are the different types of behavioral methods? ›

3 Types of Behavior Therapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on helping individuals change negative thought patterns that contribute to negative emotions. ...
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) ...
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
3 Mar 2021

What are the four behavior therapy techniques? ›

What Are the Different Types of CBT?
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) ...
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) ...
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) ...
  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT)
28 Sept 2021


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