Behavior modification techniques include positive and negative reinforcement, aversion therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and token economy methods. Reinforcement provides a system of rewards and punishments to change negative behavior into positive responses. Aversion therapy is based on conditioning a patient to change his or her actions to avoid unpleasant consequences. Cognitive behavior modification techniques focus on thought patterns that affect behavior, and the token system provides immediate rewards while setting goals for future conduct.
Reinforcement provides rewards when someone acts in a positive manner. Rewards can range from a compliment to granting a special privilege to the patient whose behavior becomes desirable. A negative consequence might be the result of unwanted behavior, with the removal of a favorite object or taking away a privilege. Extinction is one facet of this behavior modification technique, which means no reinforcement is acknowledged. Placing a child in isolation or time out is an example of extinction because the child receives neither positive nor negative reinforcement from the parent.
Cognitive behavior modification techniques involve teaching a patient to recognize thoughts that may be unrealistic or distort reality. The patient learns to examine irrational beliefs that can lead to negative habits by keeping a journal, role-playing, and being asked to defend thoughts that defy reality. Over time, the patient may begin to see that his or her thoughts are automatic and responsible for undesirable actions.
This style of therapy is often used to help people suffering from anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive behavior and panic attacks. It is also commonly used with those who have eating disorders to illustrate how the patient’s perception of being overweight stems from unrealistic thoughts. Cognitive behavior strategies also might help those suffering from depression and insomnia.
Aversion behavior modification techniques center on the premise that all behavior is learned and can be unlearned. This method of behavior modification is sometimes called classical conditioning. The therapy uses unpleasant consequences the patient hopes to avoid by changing his or her actions. Electrical shock treatment is one example of adverse stimuli used to treat deviant behavior.
Milder forms of aversion therapy include medication given to alcoholics that might make them ill if they drink while using the drug. Unpleasant odors, tastes, and noise are other common tools used in aversion therapy. Opponents of this form of behavior modification techniques view the method as punitive and difficult for a patient to continue. It might also pose risks to patients with health problems, such as heart conditions.
The token economy technique distributes a token or similar object each time a patient or student exhibits positive behavior. Tokens can be amassed and later exchanged for a prize or privilege, or lost due to unwanted behavior. This form of behavior modification is commonly used in mental institutions and prisons to help control individuals who show violent tendencies.