5 behavior modification techniques

Behavior, which is the link established between the body’s response and a specific environmental situation, can sometimes be maladaptive.

To increase its functionality (by removing, reducing or modifying it) it is common to apply principles of learning, known in psychology as behavior modification techniques.

Techniques for creating and increasing behaviors

There is a wide range of strategies that can either increase or encourage desirable behaviors, or reduce or eliminate dysfunctional behaviors. Among them we find the following.

1. Behavior reinforcement

There are different types of reinforcement: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.

The first is to increase the probability of a behavior occurring following a satisfactory event. For example, praising your child for good grades on an exam will encourage further study efforts.

The second is the increased likelihood of behaviors that end unpleasant events. For example, in the case of a person suffering from claustrophobia, going up the stairs instead of the elevator, to avoid the anxiety it produces, will tend to be repeated.

How to use reinforcers?

Positively reinforced behaviors are best learned and maintained over time. However, not all reinforcements are useful, you have to know how to choose well according to each case, so that they adapt to the needs of the plan and do not go against their own logic. How to correctly use reinforcers?

First, they must be chosen appropriately. To do this, it must be kept in mind that they must be proportional to the effort of the behavior to be developed. It is also preferable that they have an intrinsic character (the value of the reinforcement is defined by the person himself) and are emitted by the natural contingencies of the activities carried out, that is to say that it is the environment that strengthens.

As for when to apply them, the time between issuing the behavior and obtaining the reinforcer should be taken into account. Reinforcers applied immediately are more effective at quickly acquiring the desired behavior, Among other things because it is clearer which action caused them to appear.

However, for long-term consolidation and maintenance, it is preferable that this interval gradually increases. In this way, he gradually becomes less dependent on this reinforcement plan, until the behavior is assimilated and becomes part of his own habits.

2. Modeling

Casting is defined as the systematic reinforcement of small steps leading to the desired behavior. An example is learning to write: we do not directly learn to write sentences, but first we know the letters, we practice calligraphy, we associate letters forming syllables, words …

For a good application of the same, they must both concretize the final behavior (knowing what behavior seeks to emit once the process is finalized), as the initial behavior (knowing the baseline from which the person starts), the steps for monitor during the process and the pace of progress.

Sometimes, to facilitate the application of the technique, the modeling is accompanied by other methods of support, such as incentives (verbal indications which guide the behavior to be emitted: “the G and the I carry an O in the middle to write STEW “), a physical guide (motor aid at each of the modeling levels: taking the learner’s hand to help him achieve the shape of the o) or an exemplification (in which the” teacher “acts as a model to be imitated: he draws the letter himself).

On the other hand, the behavior modification approach by molding it has a lot in common with the concept of scaffolding with whom Lev Vygotsky worked.

3. Learning

Model learning (Also known as modeling or imitation learning) is learned by observing another person’s behavior.

The learner sees the reinforcement that the model makes to perform his action and will try to imitate it whenever the same reinforcement is desired. One example is learning pro-social and cooperative behaviors.

The modeling process includes a learning phase and an execution phaseThis can happen more or less effectively depending on variables such as the characteristics of the model, the observer and the situation, in the first phase, or motivation, quality of execution and generalization, in the second.

Duct reduction and elimination techniques

These are techniques to make certain behaviors disappear.

1. Extinction

The extinction consists of the withdrawal of reinforcements which previously held a pipe. In this way, a gradual process of weakening begins until it finally subsides.

For example, a teacher who deals with children who ask questions without raising their hands in class, when they decide to pay attention only to those who obey the established rules, will decrease the spontaneous speech behaviors of their students.

For its application, we must first identify the reinforcer who maintains the dysfunctional behavior and its nature (it is not enough to eliminate any reinforcer that accompanies the behavior, but the one that maintains it).

It should be noted that sometimes unwanted behavior may be initially increased in the process. This increase can be maintained for long periods of time (especially if the behavior has been maintained by an intermittent booster, which means greater resistance to extinction), but will weaken later until it is be eliminated.

2. Saturation

Saciación (technique opposed to deprivation) consists of the massive presentation of a reinforcer to weaken its reinforcing value: its excessive administration in a short time ends up being aversive to the person, So that in the end it avoids certain behaviors.

For example, a child who never eats vegetables because he always wants pasta. If you only eat macaroni for several days in a row, it will end up boring the dish, making it unpleasant.

Two modalities of this technique can be distinguished: satiety of the stimulus and satiety of the response.

To apply them, you must first detect unwanted behavior. Once we have identified and chosen the mode of satiety, we must propose an alternative behavior to the person (to replace it with a dysfunctional one) and carry out the interview.

Bibliographical references:

  • Mairal, JB (2014). Behavior modification techniques: a guide to their implementation. Synthesis.

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