It is well known to those who study human behavior that motivation is essential when the person is seeking to achieve a goal or reinforcement. Two of the theories that attempt to explain this fact are the associative structure of instrumental conditioning and behavioral regulation.
Throughout this article we will examine the theories of behavioral regulationWe will explain what were its precedents and how this model is applied to behavior modification techniques.
What is behavioral regulation?
In relation to structural conditioning which focuses on the responses of each individual, their motivational origin and the specific consequences thereof; behavioral regulation encompasses a larger context.
In behavioral regulation all the behavioral options an organism has to achieve something are explored. which will serve as reinforcement. It is a much more practical perspective that focuses on how the conditions of the situation or context limit or influence a person’s behaviors.
Precedents in psychology and education
As discussed above in instrumental conditioning reinforcers were seen as special stimuli that caused a satisfying situation, And thus reinforced the instrumental behavior.
However, with not all theorists fully agreeing with these ideas, alternatives such as consumer response theory, Premack’s principle, or the response deprivation hypothesis began to emerge. This would lay the foundations for behavioral regulation.
1. Consumer response theory
This theory developed by Sheffield and his collaborators she was the first to question the rules of instrumental conditioning.
According to Sheffield, there are a number of species-specific behaviors that are self-reinforcing. Examples of such behaviors would be eating and drinking habits. Consumer response theory hypothesizes that these behaviors constitute a reinforcing response in themselves.
The revolutionary idea of this theory it consists in looking for the types of reinforcing answers instead of reinforcing the stimuli.
2. Principles of prepackaging
The ideas reflected in the Premack principle have led to a breakthrough in existing thinking on reinforcement mechanisms. According to this principle, the reinforcers to be given importance were the responses rather than the stimuli.
Also known as the Differential Probability Principle, theorizes that when there is a connection between two stimuli (responses), this situation is more likely to occur. it will positively reinforce the other with less chance of occurrence.
Premack and his team argued that a reinforcing response can be any behavior or activity that the subject perceives to be positive. In this way, a behavior assessed as positive or pleasant and practiced regularly will increase the chances that another less attractive behavior will be implemented; but for that both must be presented in a contingent manner.
For example, food would be a positive, habitual, and species-specific reinforcing response. However, the kitchen doesn’t have to be. However, if the person wants to get the reinforcement, in this case to eat, he will have to cook even if it is not so attractive to him. Therefore, the pleasant reinforcement response will also favor the other response.
3. Response deprivation hypothesis
According to the response deprivation hypothesis proposed by Timberlake and Allison, when the reinforcement response is restricted, this response is instrumentally encouraged.
In other words, the important thing is not to determine the proportion or the probability that one behavior is performed and not another, but the simple act of prohibiting a reinforcing behavior will motivate the person to want to perform it.
This assumption can be seen reflected in countless contexts or situations in which the simple fact that they forbid us to do something will work as a motivator to make us want to do it more.
This theory is totally opposed to that of Premack, as he argues that the deprivation of the reinforcing response has a greater power of encouraging instrumental behavior than the differential probability of achieving one response or another.
Behavioral regulation and behavioral pleasure point
The idea of regulation is closely linked to the notion of balance or homeostasis. That means if people have a distribution of their activities that they find satisfactory, they will try to maintain it in both cases. So, the moment something or someone interferes with this balance, behavior will have to change back to normal.
Therefore, the point of behavioral pleasure is the distribution of responses or behaviors preferred by the person. This distribution can be reflected in the number of times or the time invested in an activity or behavior.
In this case we can imagine a child who prefers to play video games to study, one activity is enjoyable and the other is performed by obligation. Therefore, the distribution of behaviors of this child will be to play 60 minutes and study 30 minutes. It would be his pleasure.
However, while this distro appeals to the person, it doesn’t always have to be the healthiest or most appropriate. According to behavioral regulation theories, modifying negative behavior requires the imposition of an instrumental contingency.
Imposition of a behavioral contingency
The aim of the technique of imposing an instrumental contingency is rectify or reform the distribution of the person’s behaviors by moving him away from the point of pleasure. To do this, the therapist will use a series of reinforcements and punishments modifying the behavior.
If we come back to the previous case, by imposing an instrumental contingency, the therapist will force the child to play while the child is studying. Therefore, if the child wants to play for 60 minutes, he will have to study at the same time; or conversely, if you only want to study for 30 minutes, that will be the time you have to play.
The result will be a redistribution of the behavior that will be left between the options, increasing the amount of behavior desired but without the person deviating too much from their pleasure point.
The main contributions
Currents that have opted for behavioral regulation as a means of increasing motivation have left many contributions and new perspectives on behavior modification. These include:
- Paradigm shift in the design of reinforcers, Which range from specific stimuli to specific responses.
- Concept of distribution of responses or behaviors as a method to increase instrumental behaviors.
- The distinction between reinforcement responses and instrumental responses is removed. They are distinguished only within the framework of the therapeutic intervention.
- The notion of behavioral regulation develops the idea that people react or adopt a behavior with the intention of maximizing their benefits.