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Cartoons as Tools for Changing Behaviour Patterns

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Glendon psychology professor Evelyne Corcos has received a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) Special Grant in the ITST (Image, Text, Sound and Technology) section, for an exciting new foray into using technology for behaviour modification.

No, it’s not a brainwashing technique. Corcos’ plan is to build an Internet platform which will support a searchable database containing templates that will allow the presentation of multimedia scenarios illustrating social problems experienced by adolescents.

Wondering what this really means? Individuals – teachers, professors, psychologists, students, just about anyone – can create short videos showing behaviour problems which they are concerned with for a variety of reasons. Whether it is a teacher trying to deal with students who disrupt the class, or students experiencing taunting, exclusion or aggressive behaviour from others, persons with disabilities feeling unable to succeed, or a multitude of other negative social experiences, this tool can provide valuable, real-life experiences which encourage them to practice for success. And the fact that the medium is visual rather than text-based allows individuals with low levels of language or typing skills to benefit fully from the experience.

This is how it actually works: students participating in the project create a short video presentation, or observe an existing one, demonstrating a particular behavioural situation. They are then asked to suggest solutions to the problem that is presented using a video camera to express their ideas. This talking process allows anyone at any level to participate fully, whether they have learning or physical disabilities, low levels of writing skills, or lack of experience with computer technology. Students have access to the responses of others when they are developing their solutions to the problems that are presented and can choose solutions offered by others. Using the video technique, they have to state a rationale for their choice, because the intention is not to promote “right” or “wrong” answers but rather solutions that are dependent on the situation - what is appropriate in one situation may be inappropriate in another.

A fantastic innovation - the videotaped scenarios are automatically converted into cartoons by the software, creating a game-like informal atmosphere which is comfortable for the users and, at the same time, protects the identity of the real participants in the original videos! A boon to teachers, students, psychologists, mental health workers, this database will also be a tremendous resource to researchers on related subjects, once a large enough collection of videos has been amassed.

“This year’s research funds will cover the first phase of this project”, says Corcos, “developing a prototype which can import one format of video, one format of audio and two formats of text.” She is working with a tech team to create the platform and the templates they will need. She hopes to receive another research grant next year, to enable her to continue the project once the prototype exists.

Corcos is using the students of her third-year psychology course to amass videos of usable situations and they already have some footage on issues of smoking and peer pressure. She will be testing the templates in the controlled classroom environment, with feedback from the students. She is also in the process of establishing a link with a high school with many high-risk students for a wider user-base in the developmental process.

“At-risk adolescents typically under-perform, or manifest aggressiveness, violence, addiction and other emotional problems”, explains Corcos. “They tend to find the school experience unrelated to the reality of their lives. Consequently, they choose to leave school without the literacy and employment skills they will need for legitimate jobs. As a result, some are attracted to criminal behaviour, others succumb to addiction, mental illness, or teenage parenthood. They become dependent on the support of welfare and other public institutions. This new context-driven, language-based tool will encourage them to use, practice and tailor their social skills strategies to contexts which are crucial for their success.”

This article was submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny

Published on March 30, 2007