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What Is Behavior Modification? - Definition, Techniques & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Behavior Modification?
  • 0:54 Origin of the Theory
  • 1:45 Techniques
  • 3:58 Schedules of Reinforcement
  • 5:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Deborah Teasley

Deborah has 4 years of teaching experience and a master's degree in program development & management.

How did you learn right from wrong, and what influenced you to form these behaviors? In this lesson, we will explore how factors in our environment work together to determine how we behave.

What Is Behavior Modification?

Do you remember being punished as a child? Why do you think your parents did that? Despite what we thought back then, it wasn't because they hated us and enjoyed watching us suffer through a week without television. They merely disapproved of our actions and were hoping to prevent us from repeating them in the future. This is an excellent example of behavior modification.

Behavior modification refers to the techniques used to try and decrease or increase a particular type of behavior or reaction. This might sound very technical, but it's used very frequently by all of us. Parents use this to teach their children right from wrong. Therapists use it to promote healthy behaviors in their patients. Animal trainers use it to develop obedience between a pet and its owner. We even use it in our relationships with friends and significant others. Our responses to them teach them what we like and what we don't.

Origin of the Theory

Behavior modification relies on the concept of conditioning. Conditioning is a form of learning. There are two major types of conditioning; classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning relies on a particular stimulus or signal. An example of this would be if a family member came to the kitchen every time you baked cookies because of the delicious smell. The second type is known as operant conditioning, which involves using a system of rewards and/or punishments. Dog trainers use this technique all the time when they reward a dog with a special treat after they obey a command.

Behavior modification was developed from these theories because they supported the idea that just as behaviors can be learned, they also can be unlearned. As a result, many different techniques were developed to either assist in eliciting a behavior or stopping it. This is how behavior modification was formed.

Techniques

The purpose behind behavior modification is not to understand why or how a particular behavior started. Instead, it only focuses on changing the behavior, and there are various different methods used to accomplish it. This includes:

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Negative reinforcement
  • Punishment
  • Flooding
  • Systematic desensitization
  • Aversion therapy
  • Extinction

Positive reinforcement is pairing a positive stimulus to a behavior. A good example of this is when teachers reward their students for getting a good grade with stickers. Positive reinforcement is also often used in training dogs. Pairing a click with a good behavior, then rewarding with a treat, is positive reinforcement.

Negative reinforcement is the opposite and is the pairing of a behavior to the removal of a negative stimulus. A child that throws a tantrum because he or she doesn't want to eat vegetables and has his or her vegetables taken away would be a good example.

Punishment is designed to weaken behaviors by pairing an unpleasant stimulus to a behavior. Receiving a detention for bad behavior is a good example of a punishment.

Flooding involves exposing people to fear-invoking objects or situations intensely and rapidly. Forcing someone with a fear of snakes to hold one for 10 minutes would be an example of flooding.

Systematic desensitization is also used to treat phobias and involves teaching a client to remain calm while focusing on these fears. For example, someone with an intense fear of bridges might start by looking a photo of a bridge, then thinking about standing on a bridge, and eventually walking over a real bridge.

Aversion therapy is the pairing of an unpleasant stimulus to an unwanted behavior in order to eliminate that behavior. Some people bite their finger nails, and in order to stop this behavior, there's a clear substance you can paint on your finger nails that makes them taste awful. Painting your nails with it helps stop the behavior of biting nails.

Extinction is the removal of all reinforcement that might be associated with a behavior. This is a powerful tool and works well, especially with young children.

Schedules of Reinforcement

Another area of importance in the field of behavior modification is the question of how often a behavior is reinforced, in frequency and time. This is called schedules of reinforcement. These schedules are broken down into two categories:

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