Skinner's Theory of Behavior Modification

Updated April 17, 2017

Behaviour modification technique is based upon B.F Skinner's, "Skinner Box" experiments, which were based in Operant Conditioning Theory. Behavior modification is a therapy technique derived from Skinner's findings.

A Brief History of Operant Conditioning

Operant Conditioning Theory states that behaviours are modified based upon the rewards or punishments resultant from the original behaviour. Skinner's experiments on caged rats were used to expand and solidify this theory in the 1950s.

Skinner's Box

Skinner's experiments illustrated that a rat learnt repetition of specific behaviours to receive increased food amounts. However, once the reward of food was removed, then the rat ceased the learnt behaviour.

Clinical Behavior Modification

Operant conditioning reinforced psychotherapy techniques, such as shock therapy. The focus of behaviour modification is to change learnt behaviours. So, if we replace anticipated consequences with negative reinforcements---an electric shock, for example---we hope this will help to stop future repetition of the undesired behaviour.

Practical Applications

Behaviour modification and conditioning are used constantly in modern parenting. When a parent places a child in time out or takes away his favourite toy, a negative punishment is used to curb an undesirable behaviour from being repeated in the future.

Use of Behavior Modification

Behaviour modification is used when a parent introduces an alternative action to the child's undesirable behaviour, which is then reinforced with the positive consequence the child was hoping to gain from the negative behaviour.

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About the Author

Travis Wampler began his writing career along America's forgotten highway, Route 66. His research received awards from the Association of American Geographers. Wampler has written comprehensive plans and grants for city planning departments and agencies. He holds a Bachelor of Science in geography from Southwest Missouri State University and a master's degree in information systems from the University of Phoenix.