Thursday, March 3, 2011

Behaviorism: What it is and what it isn’t.

A few years ago a relative of mine made what s/he believed to be an authoritative statement. ‘Behaviorism doesn’t work. (So and so) didn’t respond as predicted.’ That thought may be common for many; however, it is a representation of a lack of understanding of what behaviorism is and is not.

When I was young, there was a magazine which I read regularly and which contained true, short, humorous, stories.
The one story I remember best was about a young boy sitting next to his father in church listening to a lengthy and, at least for the boy, incredibly boring sermon. After what seemed to the boy like an interminable amount of time, the boy turned to his father, rather loudly and pleaded, “Dad, please take me out and spank me!”
That one story, for me, encapsulates what is most misunderstood about behaviorism by both professionals and the general public.
The basic concepts of reward (reinforcement) and punishment, antecedents (to include setting events) are absolutely individual. You simply cannot treat everyone the same and expect to get the same results. If someone was to make a meal for you, you may prefer steak to monkey brain, and may respond differently to the one offering than the other. You may also react differently to steak, even if it’s the best steak in the world and you absolutely LOVE steak, if you’ve been eating it every night for a month and have already had it twice today. There are technical terms for these concepts; but that’s not what’s important here. I often talk about how objectives must be individualized, it is the same for the plan as a whole and it is absolutely the same for altering antecedents, rewards and punishments.
Simply: think about it this way:
Behavior is anything a person does. If you are alive, you are always behaving in some way or another.
An Antecedent is anything which occurs before a behavior, it can be internal (within the individual like hunger, fatigue, or a renal infection, etc.) or external (cold, heat, bright lights, yelling, etc.)
A reward is anything which increases the chances that a particular behavior will reoccur. (By now, you should understand that this is individualized and changes)
A punishment is anything which decreases the chances that a particular behavior will reoccur. (This also changes over time and is individually different). In the case of the little boy, the spanking was not a punishment for speaking loudly in church. It was a relief. One of the techniques used by the US government for enhanced interrogations was repeated and loud “Barney” music. I can almost imagine someone pleading, please, water-board me, just no more of that stinkin purple dinosaur! On the other hand, my grandson would be just fine with repeated loud Barney music… for I have no idea how long…because I can’t stand it for long at all and have to put an end to it if I’m in the room (the Sponge Bob laugh fits into the same category). My intention is not to make light of enhanced interrogations; but to demonstrate how individual punishment can be.
The next essential concept to understand is natural reinforcement (reward). This is simply receiving what you would normally receive for doing the behavior. For example, if a child asks their parent for a hug, my hope is that they would typically receive a hug. If someone pops popcorn, unless they are doing it for someone else, they would typically get to eat it. Unfortunately this simple concept is lost on many so called professionals.
So where does Behaviorism come from?
Behaviorism as we know it today gets its beginning from people like BF Skinner < >, John Watson < >, and even Ivan Pavlov < > (classical conditioning) who was famous for his experiments with salivating dogs. The basic concepts of behaviorism though are many thousands of years old and can be found in our earliest writings from Greek philosophers to early government and religious writings. In a nutshell it includes any change (based upon scientific observation and repeated experimentation) to environment, antecedents, rewards, punishments, and activities, for the purpose of changing behaviors or skills.
From behaviorism and the initial research of Ivar Lovaas < > (and many others) we get Applied Behavioral Analysis < > ABA has application, in work with children, adults, and animals. It is not only used with children and adults with disabilities or behavioral problems; but also: in the family, school, organizations, and even the corporate world through negotiations, competition, employee programs, and advertising. Government uses it to adjust/manipulate the behavior of its citizens and military. ABA is NOT just working with young children with autism.
As is implied in its name, ABA requires a scientific analysis of behavior. When working with individuals with disabilities or behavioral problems, it requires an ongoing individualized analysis of behavior.
What is EIBI or Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders?
EIBI is the application of ABA for young children with autism. It is a very specific, though individualized intervention.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Children normal behaviors depend on various natural and environmental circumstances in which a child grow and observes the way for his best possible conduct within his reach and interact amongst those who respond his gestures and body