The Decrease Leg Shaking Psychology Essay

Anxiety is a normal emotion, and we all encounter anxiety in certain situations that causes us be anxious. When we are anxious, we would experience physical symptoms arising in response to anxiety ( Ginsburg, Riddle, & Davies, 2006; Roth, Antony, & Swinson, 1999), such as “muscle tension and stomachache” which affect our everyday lives, known as somatic symptoms (Ginsburg et al., 2006). Social anxiety is a disorder that happens when a person faces a social situation and reacts in response to fear or distress due to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth (Bogels, 2006; Hofmann, 2007; Purdon, Antony, Monterio, & Swinson, 2001). This happens to me when I am in certain social situation, I get social anxiety that I tend to shake my legs.

For this behaviour modification program, I have chosen to decrease and control my leg-shaking behaviour. It has been bothering me and it has been causing irritation to certain people who were and are in my presence. The operational definition of leg-shaking is that for this program, I tested the effect of leg-shaking on my performance during the times when I was sitting down (which was when the leg-shaking behaviour almost always occurred). I needed to know exactly what sort of leg-shaking behaviour I was performing and how I should measure it. I needed to know what type of performance I am suggesting that leg-shaking behaviour affected, and how I should measure that. Furthermore, I needed to know the underlying causes and triggers of my leg-shaking behaviour, which I believe is triggered by anxiety that I usually experience, but not as much as before, in social situations.

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First and foremost, behaviour modification is defined as a technique of behaviour change that is based on the procedures of the principles of learning psychology to evaluate and determine a person’s or any other organism’s private and public actions and reactions in order to assist in improving one’s everyday lifestyle (Martin & Pear, 2011). Basically, behaviour modification is founded on the concepts of operant conditioning. It is a technique to improve an individual’s behavior by changing the way a person acts to a particular situation or stimuli using positive and negative reinforcement. In result, it replaces an undesirable behavior to a more desirable behavior.

There are rules to follow and that are critical when planning and engaging in a behaviour modification program. These includes rules of such as positive and negative reinforcement, ratio schedule, extinction, shaping, and schedules of reinforcement (Martin & Pear, 2011).

The following are brief definitions of some of the terms mentioned above: Positive reinforcement means that a particular stimulus that is given on the spot increases the likelihood of a particular response to occur another time (Martin & Pear, 2011). Negative reinforcement means that a particular stimulus is being removed to increase a particular response or to keep a particular response in a current desired state (Martin & Pear, 2011). Extinction is applied in operant conditioning, and it refers to the process of changing the state of a learned response by ensuring to no longer reinforcing that particular response (Martin & Pear, 2011). There are pitfalls that occurs in the process of extinction which I discussed later in this paper. The process of shaping is the reinforcement of altering and controlling a learned response through the process of changing that response much closer to desired response, but not exactly (Martin & Pear, 2011). In this program, I would be shaping my behaviour by alternating my leg-shaking behaviour to a more desired behaviour, which is sitting down with my feet firmly on the ground without shaking my legs.

A schedule of reinforcement is a program that determines how and when the frequency of a response happening will be followed by a reinforcer (Martin & Pear, 2011). The delivery of a reinforcer could depend on the frequency of a certain number of responses, the passage of time, the presence of certain stimuli, the occurrence of other responses of the animal, or any number of other things occurring (Martin & Pear, 2011). There are different schedules of reinforcement, I will discuss very briefly about the important ones that I implemented in this behaviour modification program.

One of the different schedules of reinforcement are the schedules of intermittent reinforcement. There are four different schedules of intermittent reinforcement which are differential reinforcement of low rates (abbreviated as DRL), differential reinforcement of zero responding (abbreviated as DRO), differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviour (abbreviated as DRI), and differential reinforcement of alternative behaviour (abbreviated as DRA) (Martin & Pear, 2011). In this program, I used the DRO intervention. DRO means that reinforcement only occurs when a particular response does not happen at a time (Martin & Pear, 2011). This particular response is being modified to another behaviour, and that behaviour would be reinforced instead (Martin & Pear, 2011).

Another schedule of reinforcement is ratio schedule which is defined as that reinforcement depends only on the number of responses a person or any other living thing has performed (Martin & Pear, 2011). Reinforcement that depends on only some of the time are said to involve partial or intermittent reinforcement (Martin & Pear, 2011). In interval schedules, responses are reinforced only if the responses occur after a certain amount of time has passed (Martin & Pear, 2011). In fixed interval schedule (abbreviated FI), the set time is constant from one occasion to the next (Martin & Pear, 2011). With a variable interval schedule (abbreviated VI), responses are reinforced if they occur after a variable interval since the beginning of the schedule cycle (Martin & Pear, 2011).These are the rules of psychology of behaviour modification that I employed in the program. Since I applied the intermittent schedule, I did not use the continuous schedule as this involves reinforcing a response or a behaviour every time it happens (Martin & Pear, 2011).

Not many research have been done on the effects of leg-shaking behaviour on an individual’s well-being and/or on the effects it may have on other individuals surrounding a person with leg-shaking behaviour. Not only the literature on leg-shaking behaviour is very limited, but case studies centering on the effects of this behaviour and on controlling or modifying the behaviour are limited as well. The following research can be used to identify early emotional and behavioural development, providing an opportunity for treatments for not only individuals my age, but for younger age groups as well- particularly in the early stage of emotional and behavioural development that are disruptive such as the leg-shaking behaviour.

Bogels (2006) stated that individuals with social phobia (also known as social anxiety disorder) tend to have distressing feelings of not being accepted by others who are aware of the physical symptoms these individuals have. These physical symptoms, such as trembling, which closely relates to my leg-shaking behaviour, that these individuals present on account of distressing and unpleasant thoughts about themselves are causing difficulties for them and to others around them (Bogels, 2006). In Bogels’s (2006) research, participants with social phobia, and who were within the age group of 17 to 65 were tested for their ability to decrease their tendency of attentive to their physical symptoms of anxiety. The purpose of this research was to determine whether if participants turn their attention to a task-oriented activity called task concentration training, would lessen their anxiety and diminish their physical symptoms of anxiety (Bogels, 2006). The results showed that the experiment was successful as participants diverted attention from their physical symptoms of anxiety to a task-oriented activity. The study of participants who were afraid of exhibiting the physical symptoms of anxiety support the notion that individuals from a wide range of age group, can modify these types of behaviour by focusing on work. However, it did not show whether individuals under the age of 17 can.

In another study, a male participant who was 26 years at that time, and who suffered from mental developmental disability was studied (LeBlanc, Hagopian, & Maglieri, 2000). It was made clear that even though this is a person with a mental developmental disability at adult age, (a person) can adapt one’s behaviour by using or participating in a token economy (LeBlanc et al., 2000). The researchers employed the DRO intervals and schedule to reduce this man’s socially unacceptable and undesirable behaviours (LeBlanc et al., 2006). The results showed that the treatment was effective as it decreased the occurrence of the participant’s socially unacceptable behaviour.

The problems with LeBlanc et al.’s (2000) research were not only there was one participant recruited for this study and that he had developmental disabilities; but the behaviour that has been modified had to do with his “inappropriate social interactions”. Even though this may not precisely relates to my topic, I chose for my literature review in research because my leg-shaking behaviour has been affecting the way I interact with others who has been noticing this. This may continue to affect me and others if I did not attempt to change this. Thus, this leg-shaking behaviour is considered socially inappropriate. In addition to this note, I also used the same reinforcement in my program.

The first purpose of this research was to investigate whether when a person’s leg-shaking behaviour caused by anxiety creates difficulties in one’s lifestyle and/or get in the way of others around this person. The second purpose was to investigate whether if and when a person learns how to control and decrease the occurrence of this leg-shaking behaviour by alleviating and improving the internalizing and externalizing state of a person aids in overall well-being and aids in not causing disturbance to others.

How I Selected My Target Behaviour and Why it’s Appropriate for this Assignment

Two other behaviours I was considering working on, but decided to work on my leg-shaking behavior instead were to increase my piano playing practice, and to exercise more. They were appropriate for the assignment, but they were not realistic for me to work on this semester. I am rarely home, therefore the probability of cooking and healthier food was very slim during the time. However, the probability of exercising during the time was moderately likely to occur, but I did not perceive this behaviour to be as vital to change as my leg-shaking behavior. I wanted to work to change a behaviour that is not only affecting me and others, but that it is also more simple and more doable to work on during the past months. Moreover, these other two behaviors are both common behaviour that I believe most people use for a project similar to this behaviour modification program.

Controlling Antecedents of Pre-Program Behaviour

The root of my habit most likely started and had to do with a social situation I was facing when I was very young. I was extremely shy. I had social anxiety. My fear of being in any social situations or interactions made me so nervous that it could be the main trigger of my shaking legs.

Pre-Program Behaviour Level

In this section, I will describe how I observed my behaviour. During the process of this observation, I found that I had habitual thoughts that momentarily flash through my mind. Here my task was to replace these habitual thoughts or bad thinking habits with good thinking habits. By doing so, I would create new thoughts that became my new habitual thoughts. These thoughts came from my feelings of anxiety, particularly in social situation or stressed situation. I counted to keep anxiety in check so that it would not encourage my old habitual negative thoughts. The reason is that my habitual thoughts affected the way I saw myself in a significant way in situation, and still do a little. If I did not change my thinking, my old habitual thoughts will continue to perpetuate my leg-shaking behaviour.

Controlling Consequences of Pre-Program Behaviour

Not controlling my leg- shaking behaviour is rewarded with being able to only concentrate while studying or listening to lectures or doing other things when sitting down. This allows me to not think about monitoring my leg-shaking constantly and to freely express my inner feelings of anxiety by letting my subconscious behaviour takes over. By detaching myself from observing and being mindless of my leg-shaking behaviour elicited by feelings of anxiety and overgeneralizing. In psychological terms this process is called positive reinforcement for a behaviour such as leg-shaking. I shake my leg and in return get rewarded by getting away with behaving any way I want when I am feeling anxious, stressed, or nervous. The way positive reinforcement works is that once I get rewarded for my leg-shaking behaviour I am more likely to do it again.

My Self-Modification Program

For my self-modification program, since I planned on changing my thinking patterns in order to prevent me at least from shaking my legs too often, then I rewarded myself with a sensible reward. The sensible reward was that once I have controlled my leg-shaking behavior, I could listen to music. I had to earn a privilege to be able to listen to a song or songs longer as listening to music is very rewarding for me. This applied to the token economy as I was using minutes of listening to music as a reward for not shaking my legs when I am anxious in a social situation.

I kept track of minutes on a sheet. I started with two hours of listening to music per day. I normally did not listen to 2 hours of music straight, but this was doable. I cannot really hear the music without headphone so I asked one of my family members to take away my headphone from me for the day and then give it back to me sometime after 10 at night. I lost a minute of listening to music when I failed to control my leg-shaking behaviour. At the end of the day, I listened to the amount of time I have earned to listen to music provided that I have any minutes left. Whenever I got sidetracked by my work and other distractions, then for every leg-shaking behaviour I do, I subtracted one minute of listening to music.

In addition to this note, l laid out a plan, including making notes of the crucial moments that I was less likely and most likely to shake my legs unconsciously on account of feeling anxious, stressed, or nervous. I prepared for my crucial moments by turning to helpful sources of influence, a friend and a family member. Then I planned on beginning deliberate practice by placing myself to a tempting situation. In short, my goal was to experience the desire but not to give in shaking my leg to express my feelings of anxiety outwardly.

My Program in Action

This was the part when I employed deliberate practice especially practice for crucial moments. I broke the steps into small pieces, and practice each step in short intervals. I also got immediate feedback at times against a clear standard, and evaluated my progress. I learned to be prepare for setbacks and I was also prepared for them some of the times.

As mentioned earlier, the specific and measurable behaviour I have been monitoring was to attempt to eliminate my leg-shaking behaviour. From the start of the program, I measured the occurrence to anxiety, as well as the intensity and frequency of anxiety as my anxiety have been triggering my leg-shaking behaviour to be present. Moreover, I have been observing and keeping track of my thinking errors that normally preceded my leg-shaking behaviour. I also have been monitoring my improvement in controlling and diminishing my leg-shaking behaviour by engaging in how often I subconsciously performed leg-shaking behaviour and by decreasing the frequency and intensity of my anxiety so that my leg-shaking behaviour will dissolve after the program ends.

I have been employing intermittent reinforcement in my program. Continuous reinforcement would not work as I found that I had not always been aware of when I shook my legs in certain situations. The unexpected surprise I learned was that I even shook my legs when I was not in social situation. I shook my legs when I worked on my school assignments.

Because of this, I started to encounter pitfalls. The pitfalls I have encountered throughout this program were that I frequently thought of excuses to avoid treating my leg-shaking behaviour. At times in class or in any social situation, I fell into my thinking traps and engaged in these thinking patterns which resulted in my habitual leg-shaking behaviour.

Evaluation of My Program

Referring to the level of the behaviour pre-program and during the program (see Figure 1 in the Appendix), my attempt to decrease my tendency to shake my leg did not work in the beginning of the program due to the effects of delay of reward. But it did worked later on after the first month I started the program. When it came to the use of reward in the program, the important component in the reward is the interval between the behaviour and the reward. I found that when the delay of receiving reward increased, it did not reward the desired behaviour as much as I wanted it to. Therefore, such delays in receiving rewards was not effective in altering a behaviour. This kind of applied to the use of punishment to decrease a behaviour. If the interval between the undesirable behaviour and punishment is delayed, then the punishment would not be effective in suppressing such behaviour (Martin & Pear).

Therefore, I should make notes that in the future my desired behaviour should be rewarded immediately. If this does not work, then another change I might make is to use punishment instead when I shake my legs.

Ending the Program; Future Plans

Although I am done with the behaviour modification program, I plan on continuing to manage my leg-shaking behaviour, which, again, happens when I get anxious. I will try to slowly stop myself from depending on the program to keep my leg-shaking behaviour under control. I will keep a long-term perspective to improve my behaviour and to improve myself. I plan on practising not only self control, but self-care as I tend to encounter stress or period of anxiety in the face of difficult situations such as speaking up in class as I am shy. I will help myself feel at ease during periods of stress by attempting to use what I learned from the behaviour techniques and exercises this semester.

Even though I will not depend on the exercises and techniques I have applied in my program, I believe I still need regular exposure to anxiety-provoking situations in order to stay in condition. I believe this will help me over the long term to keep myself habituated to the experiences that I learned from in situations I found were and still are a little anxiety-provoking.

Discussion and Conclusion

What I learned from this experience was that my obsessive thoughts and compulsive leg-shaking behaviour did not make sense. These thinking patterns that I fell into when I am nervous, stressed, sad, or depressed were generally believable, and negative, and they made my life more challenging than they needed to be. Even though I did not fully believe my obsessive thoughts, I found that I frequently engaged in my leg-shaking behaviour to get the obsessive thoughts to stop. I overestimated the probability of risk that if something could go wrong, it will go wrong. I am guilty of overgeneralizing things. So I held back many times from putting myself in certain situation that meant no harm to me or anyone, and naturally I slipped into my leg-shaking behaviour.

When I triggered one of my old habitual thoughts, I corrected it with the positive one so that these positive thoughts became my new habitual thoughts. Even though I am done with this behavioural modification program for the course, I still need to thoroughly weave this fact into my memory whenever my leg-shaking behaviour strikes. This way, I will be able to weave this fact into my conscious control to pull the plug on my tendency to worry and to overgeneralize which triggers leg-shaking behaviour. I know that the more I practice this new behaviour, the more likely I will do it in the future so that I do not return to my former state of leg-shaking behaviour.

A higher decrease in behaviour level as shown in the appendix results when I held back from overgeneralizing or from inviting pessimistic thoughts that triggered my leg-shaking in social situation. My new behaviour improved significantly after I was concentrating on changing thought patterns. This supports the notion that focusing on another activity (such as partaking in token economy or that is task-oriented) can aid in decreasing a behaviour that is bothersome (Bogels, 2006; LeBlanc et al., 2000).


Bogels, S. M. (2006). Task concentration training versus applied relaxation, in combination with cognitive therapy, for social phobia patients with fear of blushing, trembling, and sweating. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(8), 1199-1210. doi:

Ginsburg, G. S., Riddle, M. A., & Davies, M. (2006). Somatic symptoms in children and adolescents with anxiety disorders.Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(10), 1179-1187. doi:

Hofmann, S. G. (2007). Cognitive factors that maintain social anxiety disorder: A comprehensive model and its treatment implications. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 36(4), 193-209. doi:

LeBlanc, L. A., Hagopian, L. P., & Maglieri, K. A. (2000). Use of a token economy to eliminate excessive inappropriate social behavior in an adult with developmental disabilities. Behavioral Interventions, 15(2), 135-143. doi: 3.0.CO;2-3? TARGET=”_blank”><135::AID-BIN51>3.0.CO;2-3

Purdon, C., Antony, M., Monteiro, S., & Swinson, R. P. (2001). Social anxiety in college students. Journal of Anxiety Disorders,15(3), 203-215. doi:

Roth, D., Antony, M. M., & Swinson, R. P. (2001). Interpretations for anxiety symptoms in social phobia. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 39(2), 129-138. doi:

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