Behaviour modification is a therapeutic approach, driven by the principles of operant conditioning: it replaces undesirable behaviours with more desirable ones through positive or negative reinforcement. Developed by American behaviourist B. F. Skinner (1904-1990), it was introduced to the general public through his 1938 book, The Behaviour of Organisms. He considered the concept applicable to both human and animal behaviours conditioning.
A widely used behaviour modification technique is positive reinforcement, it encourages certain behaviours through a system of rewards. In order for the system to be effective the schedule of reinforcement must be adhered. Another behaviour modification technique is negative reinforcement: this is when a behaviour (washing the dishes) encourages the removal of something already present (nagging) and this behaviour (washing the dishes) increases in the future because it created a favourable outcome. Nagging in the above scenario can be referred to as a negative reinforcer, it’s reinforcing properties are associated with its removal.
Behaviour modification has been used in many circles to produce different results, some positive others negative. When used negatively I believe this can be referred to as manipulation or control of another human being. Areas were behaviour modification has been adapted in some format include:
In the church: it is not uncommon to find church folk behaving in a certain with the purpose of confirming to the leader/fellow worshippers expectations. This might range from making large donations to speaking in the acceptable church lingo. In this scenario behaviour modification occurs through positive or negative reinforcement: because the line between normal behaviour and crossing over into manipulation is very slim as regards Christianity I won’t give specific examples.
However, when the emphasis of what is being taught is to clone people who don’t question or doubt our authority, people who know the God of XYZ and not God for who is and for themselves I think it’s safe to say we have deviated from the gospel to behaviour modification and gone past that into manipulation.
In the family: children good or bad sprout from somewhere, they are a product of something or some method of parenting. We use both positive and negative reinforcements to guide them in a path that hopefully sets them up to have a good life. When done along the principles guiding behaviour modification it is a positive exercise.
However, when the behaviours we desire from them is designed to make us (the parents) happy or give us a feeling of accomplishment then we might have a tough time on our hands. Don’t get me wrong, those feelings should occur, but we should guide their behaviour along the lines of universal principles that out live us.
In the recruitment of terrorists: if ever our world needed someone to believe in, to follow to the ends of a course, the time is now. Young people all over the world are confused, unhappy, the lack of structure in families, the freedom to do and express themselves without caution makes them open to anyone who gives them a cause that seems worth dying for and once they are sucked in the form of behaviour modification close to manipulation is implemented. The situation becomes difficult to step away from as the first step was taken by them, but the rest is not something they have no control over.
In my opinion, behaviour modification can only be effective when the person in authority is fully welcomed into the inner circle and looked up to for guidance. Thus, why it works well in a parent – child relationship, therapist – client, teacher – student relationship, leader – follower etc.
Behaviour modification can never replace the impact the gospel was designed to have on people: speaking ‘Christiannese’ or adopting some of it’s principles when it pleases us will never cut it with God. With respect to the responsibility of a parent the place of guidance cannot be ignored or underestimated, our kids need us to protect as well as nurture their growing minds. Poor leadership structure in the family and society at large leaves us all susceptible to manipulation by people with agendas that endangers our lives as well those around us.