Tuesday, January 15, 2013

An Introduction to the Field of Behavior Modification

Behavior Modification is a relatively new field of expertise (started around the 1950's). Despite this it has shown to be a high roller in the game of teaching, learning and training. It flaunts it's far reaching effects in diverse fields such as Business, Education and Rehabilitation taking the people who choose to play the game to new heights of success.

And while we may enjoy the cornucopia benefits that Behavior Modification has enlightened us with, we have only but a blurry vision of how it came to be. How did this field come about and who were the "Makers" of this teaching game?

1911 Edward Thorndike described the Law of Effect which was the beginning step to founding Operant Conditioning, to later be explained by Skinner. The law of effect says that if a behavior produces a desirable outcome (in the environment) it will likely happen again.

1913 John Watson decided it was time to make the study of behavior into a field, he called it behaviorism. And he describes using a stimulus to elicit a response in behavior which was also later elaborated on by Pavlov.

1927 Ivan P. Pavlov should be a name that rings a bell (hehe). He discovered what was to be called Respondent Conditioning in dogs. You can see a video about what he studied in detail here. He found that behavior can be elicited by initiating  it with some stimulus, like instincts and Fixed Action Patterns.

1938 B. F. Skinner drew the line in the sand between Respondent and Operant Conditioning which is most easily seen when we know about the ABC's of behavior.
ABC's of PPC

A: What happens before the behavior.
B: The behavior itself.
C: What happens after the behavior.

In Respondent Conditioning the "A" is changed to initiate an immediate behavior, and Operant Conditioning the "C" is changed to initiate a future change in behavior. By doing this Skinner tied together all of Pavlov's, Watson's and Thorndike's ideas together into one happy package.

So with all this hullabaloo about behavior people often pretend to know what it is. I often hear "Jimmy's behavior at school is poor" and the thinking goes no deeper into describing what makes Jimmy's behavior so poor. Poor is not a behavior, it is simply a word to label behaviors into a category. As humans we love to categorize, it gives us a feeling of understanding and security, but it doesn't help us to understand what Jimmy is doing.

Instead we can name off the actual behaviors that Jimmy is performing such as: verbal abuse to children and teachers, grabbing objects out of people's hands, and getting out of his seat every five minutes. These behaviors can be categorized into the label "poor". "The label cannot be the cause of the behavior because the label does not exist as a physical entity or event"(Miltenberger 1-16). 


Behavior is action that can be physical or verbal.
A Target Behavior is the action you want to change.
A behavior that is in Behavioral Excess is a behavior that is happening more than you want it to.
A behavior that is in Behavioral Deficit is a behavior that is happening less than you want it to.
Controlling Variables is what is happening in the environment to effect that behavior.

Behavior is not thoughts. The Freudian Id, Ego, and Superego is an example of a theory utilizing non-behavior because as Skinner put it "(they are)“explanatory fictions”because they can never be proved or disproved, and thus are unscientific. These supposed underlying causes can never be measured or manipulated to demonstrate a functional relationship to the behavior they are intended to explain" (Miltenberger 1-16). Whereas behavior can be both measured and manipulated.

Because we can measure behavior we can change it, and because we can change it we can apply it to many different fields such as: Mental illnesses, self management, preventing child delinquency, education, developmental disabilities and even Gerontology.

Here are some detailed examples of other fields that I find cool.

Business - You can increase worker safety such as in the coal mine industry, increase work output and sales in an office and even increase the likeliness as person will come into work that day.

Sports - Athletes are shown to train better when coaches use Behavior Modification techniques over the "old school" ways.

Clinical Psychology - Used to train the Psychologists themselves in behavior therapy.

Community Psychology - Anything you can think of to increase the overall wellness of a community. From increasing hand washing to decreasing drug use. As Miltenberger puts it "reducing littering, increasing recycling, reducing energy consumption, reducing unsafe driving, reducing illegal drug use, increasing the use of seat belts, decreasing illegal parking in spaces for
the disabled, and reducing speeding."

And so ends the first week in my Behavior Modification class. Keep learning!

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Miltenberger, Raymond. Behavior Modification: Principles and Procedures. 5th. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011. 1-16. Print. 
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