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A deeper look into the science behind behavior change.

To understand behavior change, you need to look deeper into behavior momentum theory and the research regarding problem behavior. This is achieved through understanding momentum-related activities.

You may be working to change your behavior or your client’s behavior in areas such as:

  • Fitness
  • Sports
  • Academics
  • Work
  • Health
  • Daily tasks

If so, learning more about John Nevin’s research regarding behavioral momentum theory will help you have a clearer understanding of the science of behavior change.

Looking into Nevin’s research on his development of behavioral momentum theory is based on physical momentum and the resistance to change when the rate of reinforcement is high. The theory assists with learning and understanding why learned behavior is challenging to change and why humans are persistent with specific actions, even when they have a negative consequence.

Similar to the concept of Newton’s Second Law of Motion, adding velocity and mass in a moving object is the comparison to behavioral momentum theory with the rate of response and resistance to change(2). Once a learned behavior is in motion, it keeps going even if the behavior is being disruptive in the subject’s environment.

Nevin mostly conducted his experiments using pigeons to peck keys for their response because they were inexpensive, simple to train, laboratories were similar and they functionally behave as humans. He began his data collecting with depriving pigeons of food to make an effective reinforcer. He noticed the number of behavior (key pecking) matched the number of reinforcers.

Nevin commonly used quantitative methods, a basic research method using numbers in generalizing a phenomenon, while researching key pecking amongst pigeons to conclude when reinforcement rate was high, behavior was more resistant to change, compared to when it was low(1). To decrease an undesirable behavior have the subject participate in a change and disrupt response(2).

He collected a wide range of data showing multiple schedules challenged the working memory and discriminative behavior. Multiple schedules posed a problem in forgetting functions and learning the details of discriminative performance and observed the subject’s resistance to change(3).

Using alternative reinforcement can result in counterintuitive and counterproductive effects. The resistance to change increases during the presence of discrimination stimulus, even when the reinforcers are available or are not available after the demonstration of the target behavior. The persistence of problematic or adaptive behavior that receives reinforcers within a discriminative stimulus context produces a quantitative account(5).

Through observation measured and unmeasured operant behavior is attending and cognitive process(4). The resistance to change depends on the stimuli and reinforcers.

Nevin’s research has contributed to behavior analysis assisting practitioners who implement intervention plans in their efforts to reduce or eliminate undesirable and problematic behavior, while being challenged with the resistance to change amongst their clients.(5).

Whether you are looking to change your behavior or your client’s behavior, you now have an understanding of how behavior is increased or decreased learning John Nevin’s research regarding behavior momentum theory.



  1. Nevin, J. A.88). Behavioral momentum and the partial reinforcement effect. American Psychological Association, 103(1), 44-56.
  2. Nevin, J. A. (2015). Behavioral Momentum. USA: CreateSpace.
  3. Nevin, J. A., Davison, M., Odum, A. L., & Shahan, T. A. (2017, September 2017). A theory of attending, remembering, and reinforcement in delayed matching to sample. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 88, 285-317.
  4. Nevin, J. A., Davison, M., & Shahan, T. A. (2005, September). A theory of attending and reinforcement in conditional discriminations. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 84, 282-303.
  5. Nevin, J. A., & Shahan, T. A. (Winter 2011). Behavioral momentum theory: equations and applications. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44, 877-895.
Holly Metzger-Brown

Holly Metzger-Brown, M.Ed., CSA, GC-ABA, BCBA, LBS is the Learn & Play Director at the York Jewish Community Center. She graduated from Lycoming College, where she played varsity tennis and basketball. She has a master’s degree in teacher leadership and education. Holly is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, certified POINTE PROGRAM consultant, and certified tennis instructor. She has been published in several books, journals and magazines, including Onsite Fitness, Netplay, Wacky Ways to Succeed with ADHD, Strategies, TennisPro, Yorkids and Community Rec. She has been locally and nationally recognized for her youth fitness and sports programs.

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