Behavior Modification



Behavioralmodification is one of the fields of research that have attractedmany researchers, thus resulting in the development of many theoriesthat attempt to explain how behavioral modification can be achieved.Unlike other theorists, behaviorists believe that human beings have athing called mind, but it would be more productive to research onbehaviors that are observable instead of focusing on interior mentalprocesses (McLeod, 2007). The theory of operant conditioning is oneof the behavioral modification theories and it was advanced by B. FSkinner. Skinner asserted that the most effective way of studyingbehavior is to focus on the causes of a given action and consequencesof the action (Abadinsky,2012).

Thetheory of operant conditioning has three major elements, namelyneutral operants, reinforcers, and punishers. Neutral operants referto responses that come from the environment and they do not increaseor decrease the likelihood of a certain behavior being repeated(McLeod, 2007). This implies that neutral operants do not have anyeffect on behavior modification.

Reinforcementcan take either a negative or a positive form. Positive reinforcementworks by strengthening a given behavior by providing a rewardingconsequence (McLeod, 2007). For example, if a teacher gives an appleto a student who have completed the assignment, the student will bemore likely to repeat that behavior in the future. Negativereinforcement, on the other hand, refers to the strengthening of agiven behavior by removal of unpleasant reinforcers. For example, ifa student who fails to complete the homework in time if required togive the teacher an apple, that student is more likely to finish thehomework in time to avoid giving the teacher an apple.

Punishmentmodifies behavior by eliminating or weakening a given responseinstead of increasing it (McLeod, 2007). This can be achieved byapplying an unpleasant stimulus following a response or eliminatingsome rewarding stimulus. In essence behavioral theories providemultiple strategies that can be used to modify observable behaviors.


Abadinsky,H. (2012). Probationand parole: Theory and practice (11th ed.).Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

McLeod,S. (2007). Skinner-Operant conditioning. SimplyPsychology.Retrieved August 12, 2014, from