Developed from the work of B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, behavioral modification seeks to change or shape behavior through a set of stimuli and response actions. Operant conditioning works under the premise that the best way to understand a person’s behavior is to look at the reason for action and the consequences of said action. Skinner believed that there were three types of responses: neutral, reinforcing and punishing. Neutral responses, of course, were not positive or negative. Reinforcing responses, on the other hand, were considered to be positive while punishing responses were thought to be negative.
The general theory of behavior modification was also shaped by the work of Edward Thorndike, who actually came before Skinner in this theory. His Law of Effect posits that certain actions in a situation are made as a result of the available consequences. For example, the probability of you touching a hot burner voluntarily is going to decrease based on the consequence that the burner is hot and you’d scorch your hand.
Behavior modification is a therapeutic approach designed to change a particular undesirable negative behavior.
By using a system of positive or negative consequences, an individual learns the correct set of responses for any given stimulus. The practice has several offshoots that attempt to alter behavior through different actions and has developed throughout the years. Behavior modification has been found to be successful in treating disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, separation anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), disruptive behavior and autism, among other conditions.
This isn’t quite the Pavlovian dog salivation scheme you may be familiar with. That’s classical conditioning. The way operant conditioning and thus behavior modification in this sense differs is in the nature of the responses. Unlike Pavlovian conditioning, which generally deals with elicited or reflexive responses, Skinner’s theory works with voluntary responses. Behavior modification is commonly used in schools and at home, as well as in rehabilitation settings.
The belief behind behavior modification is that all behaviors can be observed and measured, and used as targets for change. As a result of those consequences (positive or negative), a person can learn, shape or eliminate certain behaviors. Before we delve into the different approaches of behavior modification, let’s look at some key terms to avoid confusion:
These are only a few of the basic terms used in behavior modification. They might seem a little confusing at first, but human nature doesn’t always respond to one set of stimuli. The varying terms help clinicians and counselors to understand what types of actions warrant certain responses and help them to figure out what exactly are our motivations for acting the way we do.
Because behavior isn’t merely cut and dry, behaviorists developed different approaches and schedules for shaping behavior. Through imitation, schedules or routines, or by doing nothing at all, they were able to learn how we learn and change our behaviors. We’ve already gone over the types of positive and negative reinforcements and punishments, so let’s look at some other methods, as listed by Educational Psychology Interactive:
In addition to these, behavior modification techniques can also work on schedules or intervals, in such that certain responses are shaped to occur at different times or that particular reinforcers or punishments may be administered at varying intervals in order to alter behavior. It should be noted that not all behavior modification techniques will work with every individual, nor will every individual’s behavior warrant singular approaches. In some cases, a combination of techniques may prove beneficial.
For persons experiencing co-occurring disorders, it can be difficult to manage both one’s behavior and substance abuse or addiction problem. Certain symptoms of both illnesses can impact the other and cause a person to be resistant or non-compliant to treatment methods.
If you or someone you know has a co-occurring disorder and may need help, call us today. We have an expert staff of treatment admissions coordinators who are available to talk to you and understand your individual needs and goals for recovery. Working with you to develop a personalized treatment plan, we can move forward together to find treatment approaches that best suit your unique needs. You can call us at any time of day or night and speak confidentially with one of our representatives. There is no reason to delay getting you or a loved one the appropriate treatment for a Dual Diagnosis. Call us today and learn more.