Behavior modification is based on the principles of operant conditioning, which were developed by American behaviorist B.F. Skinner. In his research, he put a rat in a cage later known as the Skinner Box, in which the rat could receive a food pellet by pressing on a bar. The food reward acted as a reinforcement by strengthening the rat's bar-pressing behavior. Skinner studied how the rat's behavior changed in response to differing patterns of reinforcement. By studying the way the rats operated on their environment, Skinner formulated the concept of operant conditioning, through which behavior could be shaped by reinforcement or lack of it. Skinner considered his discovery applicable to a wide range
of both human and animal behaviors(“Behavior,” 2001).
Today, behavior modification
is used to treat a variety of problems in both adults and children. Behavior modification has been successfully used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, phobias, bedwetting, anxiety disorder, and separation anxiety
disorder. Behavior modification is not used to treat disorders and problems, it is also used to increase a desired behavior. An example of a behavior many try to increase is their athletic abilities including speed, strength, and endurance (Fedor, 1990).
Athletes use a variety of behavior modification techniques to accomplish their overall goal. The most widely used is positive reinforcement, which encourages certain behaviors through a system of rewards. Following rewarding desirable behavior, behavior modification can also discourage unwanted behavior, through either negative reinforcement, or punishment. This could be removal of a privilege or an undesired event.
Behavior modification in athletics requires the development of goals. It needs one overall goal as well as small step goals. Goal setting is one of the strongest motivational tools. Studies have shown that goals should be broken down into short-term or intermediate goals to help attain the ultimate goals; goals must be accepted by the individual; challenging goals are better than easy ones; tracking progress is useful to remain committed to goals; and a plan of action facilitates goal attainment (Annesi, 2004). With the addition of a written contract binding the athlete to their goals it acts as another enforcer to accomplish their desired behavior.
Behavior modification, or behavioral therapy, trains individuals to replace undesirable behaviors with healthier behavioral patterns. Behavior modification does not try to understand the motivations for the bad behavior it seeks to create a more desirable behavior through a system of rewards. By using additional techniques like, positive “self talk”, attendance tracking, and support from others behavior modification is the most effective means of modifying behavior.
Annesi, James J. Ph.D. Enhancing Exercise Motivation: A Guide to Increasing Fitness Center Member Retention. New York: Lofback, 2004.
“Behavior Modification.” Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. 2001. Mar 11, 2005.
Fedor, Joseph. Principles of Behavior Modification. Lowe Syndrome Association.
Mar 11, 2005