Behavior modification is based on operant conditioning principles as observed and studied by B. F. Skinner, in which behavior that is reinforced (whether through rewards or incentives) tends to be repeated, and behavior that is not reinforced tends to die out or be extinguished. Or in other words, behavior modification uses systematic reinforcement in order to encourage the learning of a desired behavior.
For example, the environment a child is in is adapted in some way as to encourage the repeated behavior that one wishes to reinforce in order to override non-desirable behavior. This could be done through encouraging a child when he or she plays peacefully with peers, and reprimanding the child for fighting or aggressive behavior. A child will generally choose a behavior that he or she feels has the most benefits. Behavior modification, however, does not delve into the history of why the child is displaying a non-desirable behavior, but rather focuses on creating changes in the child’s environment that will encourage the extinction of the undesired behavior.
When implementing behavior modification strategy, it is important that one articulates the acceptable behavior one wishes to see increased, as well as defining what the unacceptable behavior one wishes to see extinguished. Often, adults can unconsciously be reinforcing unacceptable behaviors simply through more attention being given to the unacceptable behavior than the acceptable behavior. It is also important to be sure that reinforcements for desired behavior are carefully selected and regularly given.
Social learning theorists propose that “modeling” is another effective method in behavior modification. In this method, a child observes a role model displaying the desired behavior, as well as the role model receiving rewards for a desired behavior that is displayed. Through this observation, a child deduces that such behavior has merit and tries it out for him or her self.
Advantages to utilizing behavior modification techniques is that behavior modification techniques can be used at home or at school, and the principles of which are easy for parents and teachers to grasp and implement with the children in their care. Such techniques generally prove to be highly effective in a short amount of time. Disadvantages are that behavior modification programs are taxing on teachers and individuals enforcing such programs, as well as the fact that only observable behaviors are focused on being altered, whereas such behaviors may be symptoms of underlying causes or other root problems.