Wireless Networking Technology for Ubiquitous Behavior Modification

The technology is innovative in its use of MANETs for implementing and tracking behavior therapies. MANETs are of major interest to the defense, homeland security, and disaster preparedness research sectors and are likely to continue to increase in sophistication throughout the foreseeable future. The essential quality of MANETs that make them well-suited for behavior therapies is their ability to support so-called ‘pervasive’ or ‘ubiquitous’ computing. Because the nodes of the network are free to move about in space, the individual will come into (and go out of) contact with various nodes of the network including human and automated sensors. The network is able to reassemble on-the-fly, thereby enabling behavior modification to travel with the individual undergoing therapy. This enables therapy to continue at home and school in a seamless fashion.

Mobile Ad Hoc Behavioral Technology

MediaBalance has developed wireless mobile ad hoc technology for improving (a) exercise behaviors in youth, (b) dietary behaviors in adolescents and adults, and (c) the treatment of the functional deficits associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in home and classroom settings. The technology consists of networks of devices including hardware for embedded sensors, software to support humans in detecting behaviors, and software for managing behavior plans.

Company Information

MediaBalance, Inc. was founded in 2003 by Dr. Alejandro Terrazas. The company’s mission is to bring high technology and behavioral psychology to bear on the nation’s most critical health problems. Dr. Terrazas has unique experience appropriate to this task. He has a Ph.D. in Psychology and extensive experience in object oriented programming, embedded systems, and database design. Dr. Terrazas completed a two-year fellowship at the National Institutes of Mental Health where he conducted human brain imaging experiments using virtual reality. He is the former Associate Director of the Machine Interface Network Design (MIND) Laboratory at Michigan State University where he oversaw R & D efforts in Internet controllable robotics, virtual reality, neuroinformatics, and human computer interaction. Dr. Terrazas is an authority on the Java computer programming language. In 2000, he was appointed to an elite industry and academic consortium that produced the Java Advanced Imaging Specification 1.1 (JSR 34). He is the author of the book Java Media API's: Cross-platform Imaging, Media, and Visualization (SAMS/Pearson Press, ISBN: 0-672-32094-0).
MediaBalance has developed an active research program based on using high technology for behavior treatments. Dr. Terrazas is currently the P.I. on three NIH-funded Phase I SBIR grants using his behavioral technology: (a) NIDDK 1 R43 DK070482-01 to modify physical activity behaviors in sedentary and obese youth (b) NIDDK 1 R43 DK075268-01 to modify weight loss and maintenance behaviors in adults, and (c) NIMH 1 R43 MH076359-01 to implement evidence-based behavioral therapies in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Impediments to widespread use of behavior therapy

Unfortunately, substantial impediments to widespread use of behavior therapy remain. Whereas the vast majority of children with ADHD receive pharmacotherapy at some point in their lives, only about 10% ever receive behavior therapy (Bosco & Robin, 1988). Common obstacles include noncompliance with or inconsistent implementation of behavior plans by parents and teachers, who view the demands of implementing the intervention as overly burdensome. Similarly, the systematic tracking and logging of data is a substantial problem for many individuals applying a behavior plan, yet, it is mandatory for the effective application of therapy. These difficulties are multiplied when more than one individual is undergoing behavior therapy in the same classroom or home environment and are further exacerbated when the therapies are individualized. There is a pressing need to overcome these barriers so that evidence-based behavioral treatments can be translated to the field, where they are badly needed.

Bosco, J. & Robin, S. (1980). Hyperkenesis: Prevalence and treatment. In C. Whalen & B. Henker (Eds.) Hyperactive children: The social ecology of identification and treatment (pp. 173-187). New York, Academic Press.

Optimal Treatments for ADHD

Data from the NIMH collaborative Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD (MTA) suggests that the optimal treatment of the wide range of problems associated with ADHD, especially those extending beyond ADHD symptoms (e.g., oppositional/aggression behavior, parent-child conflict, academic problems), are best addressed by combining medication with behavioral interventions (MTA Cooperative Group, 1999). Project Co-Investigator Dr. Hoza has shown a dose-response relationship between the intensity of behavior therapy and improvements in functional deficits associated with ADHD—indeed, in some cases, increasing the intensity of behavior therapy can eliminate the need for pharmacotherapy (Hoza et al., 1992). Furthermore, use of behavior therapy concurrently with medication substantially reduces the required dosage of medication, presumably also reducing the associated risks of side effects (MTA Cooperative Group, 1999). The issue of side effects has received renewed attention given recent findings of constitutive changes in gene expression following administration of methylphenidate in rats (Chase et al., 2005).

Reference cited:
1.MTA Cooperative Group. (1999). 14-month randomized clinical trial of treatment strategies for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 56:1073-1086.1.
2. Hoza, B. Pelham, W. E., Sams, S. E., & Carlson, C. (1992). An examination of the “dosage” effects of both behavior therapy and methylphenidate on the classroom performance of two ADHD children. Behav Modif, 16(2):164-92.
3.MTA Cooperative Group. (1999). Moderators and mediators of treatment response for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: The multimodal treatment study of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 56:1088-1096.
4. Chase, T. D., Carrey, N., Brown, R. E., & Wilkinson, M (2005) Methylphenidate differentially regulates c-fos and fosB expression in the developing rat striatum Brain Res Dev Brain Res, Jun 30;157(2):181-91.

MediaBalance’s unique approach to behavior therapy

MediaBalance has developed technology for implementing a behavioral economy using mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) of wireless sensors and information appliances. The subject accumulates points on a wristwatch or other wearable device (referred to throughout this proposal as an accumulator). Each accumulator is equipped with a vibrator indicating—in a clandestine fashion—the delivery of points. Accumulators also contain a graphic display to provide other forms of feedback to the child. Points are transferred to (or removed from) an electronic account and can be spent for items and privileges through a private, individually-tailored web-based eCommerce site. The technology should substantially improve the ease and consistency of implementing a behavioral economy in the school and home setting.

What is Behavioral Pay-Per-View?

From The Lansing-Jackson Business Review

By Mark Fellows



"I call it behavioral pay-per-view," says Alejandro "Alex" Terrazas, president and chief scientist of startup company MediaBalance Inc.

"The idea is that you use TV, the Internet, cell phone minutes, any electronic media I can get my hands on - iTunes is another one - and you use that as reinforcement," he explains. "I have a point system. So for exercise, I have sensors embedded in a medicine ball - that's my personal favorite - and as you move the medicine ball it cranks out points to your wristwatch, and also to your cell phone."

The Wireless Walden

In his controversial book Walden 2, the psychologist B.F. Skinner wrote about a utopian society based on operant conditioning. MediaBalance allows you to build a utopian society in your own home. We call it Wireless Walden.

Our patent-pending method of wireless embedded behavior modification allows positive behavior to be reinforced with points that can be exchanged for access to televisions, computers, game platforms, and cell phones. Wireless Walden is a media-based behavior economy. Not only will it increase good behavior, but you can say goodbye to the daily battle over screen time.

A Device for Turning Humans into Pigeons?

Not really. But, shaping behavior through operant conditioning is a powerful technique. For example, during WWII, Skinner was able to train pigeons to guide missles with deadly accuracy. And the outrageous Las Vegas act of Seigfried and Roy? Its all based on Skinner. But what exactly is operant conditioning and how do we apply it to humans?

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is not that tough to understand. It's really all about actions and consequences. The key ideas are the operant (an action by an organism that changes the environment) and the consequence that follows. Reinforcement refers to any consequence that increases the operant's future likelihood. If we know what is reinforcing and can control the delivery, then we can use reinforcement to increase the likelihood of some desired operant behavior. It is well known that reinforcement is especially potent when it is delivered immediately following the desired behavior. But this poses a lot of problems. If video games are reinforcing to a kid sitting in class, you wouldn't want to deliver this reinforcement right in the middle of a lesson. You need a way to bridge the gap between the target behavior and the reinforcemnt. Well, bring on the tokens!

The Power of Tokens

In the 1960's, psychologists began to use tokens (tangible indicators that can be traded in for reinforcers) as a practical way to apply Skinner's work to human behavior. Tokens bridge the gap between the desired behavior and the ultimate delivery of reinforcment. MediaBalance's token economy relies on electronic points as tokens. Because Wireless Walden is wireless and embedded, the tokens can be.seamlessly integrated with a wide variety of consumer products. This means the tokens can be delivered anytime and anyplace.

The Reinforcing Properties of Media

Media access is the perfect reinforcer. To understand why, we need to understand a basic rule about reinforcment known as the Premack Principle. This principle is central to MediaBalance's approach to changing behavior. The Premack Principle can be paraphrased as "high probability behaviors will reinforce low probability behaviors". To discover high and low probability behaviors, simply observe what the subject does when the opportunity exists. There is no question that for the vast majority of all humans, media consumptions is a high probability behavior. If a TV is available, people wll watch it (see links to the Kaiser Family Foundation for some rather shocking statistics on the prevalence of media use). And have you been in an airport lately? Its seems that everybody has a cell phone. And here's the topper. You are already paying for media access or getting it for free. Its like the air around you. In fact, media usage is such a high probability behavior that many people are striving to find a balance between screen time and the rest of their life. Wireless Walden lets you tap this ubiquitous resource for good. And what's more

So Many Behaviors, So Little Time

Media access is a high probability behavior that you can harness to increase targeted low probability behaviors. What low probability can we change? There are too many to list, but exercise, homework and chores come to mind. We provide low cost, easy to use tools to make a media access contingent on a wide range of low probability behaviors.

Wireless Walden and the Classroom

Behavior Mod is common practice in the classroom. Ask any teacher and they will tell you about behavioral contracts and other methods of reinforcing students for desired behavior. Unfortunately, most behavior modification programs are a hassle to implement and end up costing the parent a heavy price in toys and candy. Plus, having the teacher walk over to give your kid a poker chip for raising his hand is embarrasing for the kid and disruptive to the class. MediaBalance's Wireless Walden for the classroom makes it easy. The teacher pushes a button on a laptop, cell phone or PalmTop and voila! Instant reinforcement. When your child returns home, you won't have to worry about TV time, your kid will have earned it.