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Behavior Modification


Behavior modification is a technique that uses Skinner’s operant conditioning concept, which works on the principle that all behavior is determined and governed by punishing or reinforcing stimuli. According to Stajkovic & Luthans, behavior is a range of voluntary or involuntary mannerisms to external and internal stimuli of an organism, individual or a system. Behavior modification seeks to influence a behavior into the accepted standards of the system or a society by punishing all behavior that is undesirable and rewarding the desired behavior.

There are two main components of behavior modification; reinforcement and punishment. The components are positive and negative based on their application, a contributory factor that determines what happens after (consequences) or before (antecedents) a responsive action. The technique is widely used in many psychological settings, companies, schools and therapy sessions.

Systematic reinforcement shapes and increases a desired behavior. Positive reinforcement entices and motivates a repeat of a behavior by using a rewards system, praise and recognition leading to positive consequences. For example, the introduction of cash rewards system or a shopping voucher to high-performing employees in a company. Negative reinforcement takes away a valuable item or condition after an undesired behavior enabling the stopping of a negative outcome. For example, denying a student daily stipend because of failing the test. In response to this, the student will work hard to pass the next test so that he can have the daily stipend reinstated.

Lastly, punishments are used to bring to an end any negative behavior that would recur in the future. In operant conditioning, positive punishment, although confusing, refers to introducing a consequence that stops negative behavior. For example, charging an employee for a lost item. The employee will be cautious in the future after bearing the cost of replacing that the lost item. Negative punishment deals with denial of necessities or privileges with the sole aim of preventing negative behavior. For example, grounding a minor for sleeping out at a friend’s party and not observing her curfew timing. She will be forced to enact self-discipline and learn through her mistakes so that she can have permission next time.