What Are Some Behavior Modification Techniques?

Behavior modification techniques typically include positive and negative reinforcement, as well as removal of all reinforcement, or extinction. Positive reinforcement provides a reward for a desired behavior, while negative reinforcement provides punishment, or other unwanted response, for an undesired behavior. Removing all reinforcement can modify behavior by taking away an expected response. In 1938, behaviorist B. F. Skinner developed his principles of operant conditioning, in which reinforcement, or the lack of it, modifies or shapes behavior.

Behavior modification techniques apply Skinner's concept of operant conditioning to the behaviors of people as well as animals. One popular behavior modification technique encourages desired behaviors by establishing rewards for replicating that behavior. Therapists help clients conceive their personal reward systems for new or desired behaviors, or positive reinforcers.

Negative behavior modification may increase positive behaviors or decrease negative behavior. For example, using sunscreen can prevent sunburn, a negative outcome that happens on its own. Alternatively, punishment provides a negative response, such as when a father adds more chores if a son fails to clean his room.

Extinction behavior modification involves ignoring an undesired behavior or redirecting to a desired behavior. Consider, for example, a child who constantly leaves his desk to get attention, which he gets from the teacher. The teacher decides to ignore the behavior until the child stops repeating it, resulting in the extinction of that attention-seeking behavior.