Behaviour Modification - Concept, Applications, Methods, Examples

Behavior modification is based on methodological behaviorism, which refers to limiting behavior-change procedures to behaviors that are observable—in particular...

Discuss the concept of behaviour modification.

Behavior modification is the use of empirically demonstrated behavior change techniques to increase or decrease the frequency of behaviors, such as altering an individual's behaviors and reactions to stimuli through positive and negative reinforcement of adaptive behavior and/or the reduction of behavior through its extinction, punishment and/or satiation.

Behavior modification is based on methodological behaviorism, which refers to limiting behavior-change procedures to behaviors that are observable—in particular, superimposing consequences, such as increasing or decreasing the frequency of behaviors and altering an individual's behaviors through positive and negative reinforcement to increase desirable behavior and/or the reduction of behavior through extinction and punishment.

Behavior modification uses the principles of operant conditioning, which were developed by American behaviorist B. F. Skinner (1904-1990). Skinner formulated the concept of operant conditioning, through which behavior could be shaped by reinforcement or lack of it. Skinner considered his concept applicable to a wide range of both human and animal behaviors and introduced operant conditioning to the general public in his 1938 book, The Behavior of Organisms .

Martin and Pear indicate that there are seven characteristics to behavior modification, namely:
- strong emphasis on defining problems in terms of behavior that can be measured in some way
- treatment techniques are ways of altering an individual's current environment to help him/her function more fully
- methods and rationales can be described precisely
- techniques are often applied in everyday life
- techniques are based largely on principles of learning specifically operant conditioning and respondent conditioning
- There is a strong emphasis on scientific demonstration that a particular technique was responsible for a particular behavior change
- There is a strong emphasis on accountability for everyone involved in a behavior modification program.

Discuss the applications of behaviour modification.

Behavior modification can be useful in a variety of situations:
  1. Treatment of problems:
    1. Clinical Psychology: Behavior modification has been successfully used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), phobias, enuresis (bed-wetting), generalized anxiety disorder , and separation anxiety disorder , among others.
    2. Health Psychology: to increase compliance with medical regimens
    3. Issues with children: helps treat problems such as bedwetting, noncompliance etc.
    4. Mental Illnesses: Used to modify behaviors of patients with chronic mental illness
    5. Developmental Disabilities: To reduce self-injurious behaviors, aggressive and destructive behaviors in such patients
    6. Rehabilitation: Used to improve the efficacy of rehabilitation routines and decrease problem behaviors
  2. To increase desired behaviors in various settings:
    1. Sports: increasing healthy lifestyle behaviors
    2. Foster homes and prisons: helps in reducing recidivism for adolescents with conduct problems and adult offenders
    3. Community: to increase desired behaviors in the community. Ex: compliance with law
    4. Industry: to enhance productivity and sales by influencing employee and consumer behavior
    5. Schools and Colleges: to improve the pedagogy to ensure maximum learning by students

What are the various methods used in behaviour modification? Explain with suitable examples.

Behavior modification methods can be divided into five categories:
  1. Developing a new behavior: 
    1. Successive Approximation Principle: To teach a person to act in a manner in which he has seldom or never before behaved, reward successive steps to the final behavior (also called shaping)
    2. Continuous Reinforcement Principle: To develop a new behavior that the person has not previously exhibited, arrange for an immediate reward after each correct performance.
    3. Negative Reinforcement Principle: To increase a person’s performance in a particular way, arrange for him to avoid or escape a mild aversive situation by improving his behavior or by allowing him to avoid the aversive situation by behaving appropriately.
    4. Cueing Principle: To teach a person to remember to act at a specific time, arrange for him to receive a cue for the correct performance just before the action is expected rather than after he has performed it incorrectly.
  2. Strengthening a behavior:
    1. Decreasing Reinforcement Principle: To encourage a person to continue performing an established behavior with few or no rewards, gradually require a longer time period or more correct responses before a correct behavior is rewarded.
    2. Variable Reinforcement Principle: To improve or increase a person’s performance of a certain activity, provide the child with an intermittent reward.
  3. Maintaining an established behavior:
    1. Substitution Principle: To change reinforcers when a previously effective reward is no longer controlling behavior, present it just before (or as soon as possible to) the time you present the new, hopefully more effective reward.
  4. Stopping inappropriate behavior
    1. Satiation Principle: allow the person to continue (or insist that he continue) performing the undesired act until he tires of it.
    2. Extinction Principle: To stop a person from acting in a particular way, you may arrange conditions so that he receives no rewards following the undesired act.
    3. Incompatible Alternative Principle: To stop a person from acting in a particular way, you may reward an alternative action that is inconsistent with or cannot be performed at the same time as the undesired act.
    4. Response Cost Principle: To stop a person from acting in a certain way, remove a pleasant stimulus immediately after the action occurs. Since response cost results in increased hostility and aggression, it should only be used infrequently and in conjunction with reinforcement.
    5. Punishment:
    6. Positive Punishment: adding a negative consequence after an undesired behavior is emitted to decrease future responses. Disapproval, criticism, pain and fines are common forms.
    7. Negative Punishment: taking away a certain desired item after the undesired behavior happens in order to decrease future responses.
    8. Overcorrection: Can involve practicing correct behaviors after making mistakes (positive practice) or correcting a mistake (restitution)
  5. Modifying emotional behavior:
    1. Avoidance Principle: To teach a person to avoid a certain type of situation, simultaneously present to the child the situation to be avoided (or some representation of it) and some aversive condition (or its representation).
    2. Fear Reduction Principle: To help a person overcome his fear of a particular situation, gradually increase his exposure to the feared situation while he is otherwise comfortable, relaxed, secure or rewarded.

* * *

Behavior modification is an effective technique used to treat many problems related to clinical psychology, health psychology, mental illnesses, rehabilitation etc. and to increase desired behaviors in various settings such as sports, business, prisons etc.  

It draws heavily on the concepts of respondent conditioning and operant conditioning. The methods used in Behavior modification can be categorized into five sets – developing a new behavior, strengthening a behavior, maintaining an established behavior, stopping inappropriate behavior and modifying emotional behavior.


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