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Modification of the behavior, history and techniques most used

Modification of the behavior, history and techniques most used

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Behavior modification is about set of psychological methods for the treatment of adaptation disorders and for the change of observable behavior types.

Brief history of the origin of the behavior modification

The modification of conduct, strictly speaking, began to arise in the early twentieth century in the laboratory of Russian physiologist Iván P. Pávlov, who trained a dog to salivate when he heard a bell or saw a circle projected on the wall and not to do it when he saw an ellipse (in the first cases it was administered after food and in the case of the ellipse an electric shock). By changing the shape of the ellipse and resembling it more and more in a circle, the dog's reaction changed: it stirred and it was not possible to elicit in it the previously conditioned response. This type of disturbance generated in the laboratory has since been called 'experimental neurosis'.

A second fundamental milestone for behavior modification took place when Pavlovian conditioning principles became generalized to human beings. In 1920 the American behavioral psychologist John B. Watson and his assistant Rosalie Rayner published an experimental study in which an 11-month-old baby who had previously played with a white lab rat was conditioned to fear her by associating her presence with a loud and unpleasant noise, in what is called stimulation pairing . The psychologist Mary Cover Jones performed similar experiments but designed to reduce the fears already established in children, discovering two particularly effective methods: the first, the association of the feared stimulus with another different stimulus capable of provoking a positive reaction, and the second, the location of a child who feels fear for a particular object with others who do not feel it (beginning of experimentation on learning by imitating models or vicarious conditioning).

English, South African and American psychologists employed behavior modification techniques in the 1940s and 1950s for clinical purposes, highlighting in this area the South African physician Joseph P. Wolpe, who questioned the efficacy of traditional psychotherapy for the treatment of adults young people, especially those who had incapacitating fear reactions (such as phobias). To treat anxiety disorders, Wolpe designed therapeutic procedures based on the Pavlovian classical conditioning model..

At the same time, a group of London psychologists, headed by Hans Jurgen Eysenck, launched a new research program on the development of treatment techniques based on the learning theory of American behaviorists Clark L. Hull and Kenneth W. Spence.

Two types of investigations were carried out in the United States that helped determine the field of behavior modification: the generalization of the principles of classical conditioning to clinical problems such as nocturnal enuresis or alcoholism, and the application of the principles of operant or instrumental conditioning developed by B. F. Skinner aimed at the education and treatment of disabled children in schools and institutions and the treatment of adults in psychiatric hospitals.

At the beginning of the 1960s, behavior modification had become an applied specialty of psychology in its two branches: behavior therapy and applied behavior analysis.

Behavior modification techniques

Certain techniques used in behavior therapy became relevant enough to acquire specific names: systematic desensitization, aversion therapy, bio-feed-back ('bio-feedback') and the analysis of applied behavior.

Systematic desensitization

Systematic desensitization, the most commonly used technique for behavior therapy, attempts to treat disorders that have a known origin, such as phobias to animals, airplanes, social phobias or claustrophobia. The method usually consists of train the patient to relax in the presence of the unpleasant stimulus, which begins with the distant presence or the mere mention of the object and gradually approaches. The therapy assumes that the anxiety reaction is gradually replaced by the new relaxation response, a process known as reciprocal inhibition (between the conditioned phobic response in the patient and the relaxation response induced in the treatment).

Aversion therapy

Aversion therapy is often used to eliminate pernicious habits. The unpleasant stimulus, like an electric shock (small and controlled), occurs at the same time as the 'negative habit' happens. Repeated series of unpleasant stimulus and negative habit, pretend that the stimulus triggers repulsion, not positive attraction. This form of therapy has been quite controversial, since its effectiveness is questioned, probably because it does not even follow the paradigm of operant behaviorism defended by Skinner which, as illustrated in his novel utopia Walden II, distrusts the ability of negative reinforcements to extinguish a response.

The bio-feed-back or 'bio-feedback'

'Biofeedback' is used primarily in the treatment of behavioral disorders that have a physical basis. Provides the patient with information on physiological processes such as blood pressure or heart rate. With the help of mechanical devices, specific variations in the functioning of the human body can be observed. The therapist may compensate for the changes he deems appropriate, such as lowering blood pressure.

The analysis of applied behavior

Applied behavior analysis is used to develop educational and therapeutic techniques of a constant but customizable format. Five essential stages characterize this approach:

  1. decide what the patient can do to improve the problem;
  2. prepare a program to weaken unwanted behavior and strengthen substitution behavior;
  3. implement the therapeutic program according to behavioral principles;
  4. keep carefully detailed records, and
  5. modify the program if it produces better results.

Finally, it should be noted that the axis of the behavioral therapy It does not focus on the analysis of the underlying causes of behavioral alterations, but only on the alterations themselves, and that today there are many who reject it in the field of psychology.


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