Behavior Modification

Dr. Purushothaman
October 7, 2013

Behavior modification is the use of basic learning techniques, such as conditioning, biofeedback, reinforcement, or aversion therapy, to alter human behavior. It is the use rewards or punishments to reduce or discard problematic behavior, and can teach new responses to an individual in response to environmental stimuli. It is also defined as a therapy that aims to inhibit abnormal or maladaptive behavior by reinforcing desired behavior and eliminating undesired behavior.

Behavior Modification is part of a behavioral tradition developed by Ivan Pavlov in the early part of the twentieth century. This therapy was adapted by John Watson in 1920 and eventually translated into behavior therapy by researchers and clinicians such as B.F. Skinner and Hans Eysenck in the 1950s. However, the first use of the term behavior modification appears to have been by Edward Thorndike in 1911. His article Provisional Laws of Acquired Behavior or Learning makes frequent use of the term "modifying behavior". Today, there are several branches and schools of thought with varying terminology as regards behavior modification therapy.

The primary goal of behavior modification is to adjust behavior patterns that are inappropriate and undesirable in some aspects. When conducting this technique, it is crucial that the undesirable behavior be isolated and observed. Eventually, this is followed by a certain degree of awareness of the behavior on the part of the parents and the therapist, and also on the part of the child whose behavior is being modified. Subsequently, with the awareness comes the goal of further understanding the cause and effect of the behavior, thus assisting to affect change. This step of understanding behavior in context is called functional behavior assessment. This means that you have to know what comes before the behavior, what the behavior looks like, and what comes right after the behavior. Once sufficient observation are made, they are then analyzed and specific patterns are identified. Once there are established antecedents and/or consequences, only then can an intervention be implemented to target them in order reinforce and strengthen or diminish the target behavior. This technique has become the foundation of positive behavior support for children in school whether from traditional education or special education.
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In several cases, behavior modification together with cognitive therapy and medication therapy are the preferred methods of treatment for disorders such as ADD, ADHD and Conduct Disorders. Behavior modification and cognitive therapy are also commonly used in the treatment for disorders such as Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse, Mood, and Anxiety Disorders.

There are two types of reinforcers used to strengthen positive behavior. The use of rewards to reinforce a positive behavior to help affect change is called positive reinforcement. Negative Reinforcement strengthens a behavior because a negative condition is stopped or avoided as a consequence of the behavior. To stop an inappropriate behavior, it's important to first focus on just one or two offending behavior patterns. Once a behavior pattern is recognized and its pattern charted and understood, a system of reinforcements and consequences can then be constructed.

The key to a successful program of behavior modification is consistency. Stick to one technique as much as possible, this is the reason why you should be careful from the very beginning of the tratment program. It would be risky to shift from one technique to another as this nay only confuse the patient. Lastly, it is imperative that parents present their own behavior and reactions in a positive way, so that their children can learn and model appropriate behavior.

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