Behavior Modification


Behavior modification is a method of strengthening desired behavior or response through a positive or negative reinforcement of adaptive behavior or the reduction of a maladaptive behavior through extinction, punishment or therapy.

For example you are an employee. You worked extra hours just to finish your tasks, arrives at work on time and sometimes you skip lunch just to complete the assigned job. A hard worker – that’s what you are! Now after a month of hard work your paycheck is delayed. Weeks and months passed and still the salary is not released. Would you perform the same effort towards your job now that you are still unpaid? You might still go to work with a change behavior or stop working.

For working people, receiving a regular and on-time paycheck is a positive reinforcer that motivates the employees to do their job well. If this motivating factor is lacking, expect a less efficient job performance from the employees. Behaviorists believed that a behavior can be change through a system of rewards and punishments.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

A positive reinforcement is provided by giving a person attention and positive feedback. For example, a child has successfully made it through the night without wetting the bed. The mother acknowledges the child’s behavior in front of the family during breakfast period.

A negative reinforcement on the other hand is done by removing a stimulus after a behavior occurred to prevent it from occurring again. For example, a student becomes anxious when he is seated at the back during classes. He or she may ask the professor to be seated in front to prevent such anxiety.

  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior (OCD)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Phobias
  • Enuresis (bed-wetting)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder
Behavior Modification Techniques
ABC approach

A – Antecedents

Antecedents are the events that occur before a particular behavior is demonstrated. “What comes directly before the behavior?”

B – Behaviors

The behavior developed as a result of the presence of antecedent. “What does the behavior look like?”

C – Consequences

These are the events that occur after the behavior. “What comes directly after the behavior?”

After the ABC’s are assessed, the data gathered is analyzed and identified as inappropriate and appropriate behavior. Inappropriate behaviors are observed, targeted and stopped while the appropriate ones are identified, developed, strengthened and maintained.

Some Behavioral Theories and Theorists

Theorists such as Ivan Pavlov and Burrhus Frederick Skinner focused on observable behaviors and factors that bring about behavioral changes.

Classical Conditioning by Ivan Petrovich Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov is a Russian psychologist, physiologist and physician widely known for providing the best example of classical conditioning through experimentation on dogs. Classical conditioning principle states that a behavior can be modified or changed through conditioning of the external stimuli or conditions.

Operant conditioning by Burrhus Frederick Skinner

B.F. Skinner is an American psychologist who developed the operant conditioning. Operant conditioning states that people learn their behaviors from their past experiences particularly those which as constantly reinforced.