Principles for Using Behavior Modification

Citation: Huitt, W. (1994). Principles for using behavior modification. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from

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To develop a new behavior

1. Successive Approximation Principle:

To teach a child to act in a manner in which he has seldom or never before behaved, reward successive steps to the final behavior.

2. Continuous Reinforcement Principle:

To develop a new behavior that the child has not previously exhibited, arrange for an immediate reward after each correct performance.

3. Negative Reinforcement Principle:

To increase a child's performance in a particular way, you may arrange for him to avoid or escape a mild aversive situation by improving his behavior or by allowing him to avoid the aversive situation by behaving appropriately.

4. Modeling Principle:

To teach a child new ways of behaving, allow him to observe a prestigeful person performing the desired behavior.

5. Cueing Principle:

To teach a child to remember to act at a specific time, arrange for him to receive a cue for the correct performance just before the action is expected rather than after he has performed it incorrectly.

6. Discrimination Principle:

To teach a child to act in a particular way under one set of circumstances but not in another, help him to identify the cues that differentiate the circumstances and reward him only when his action is appropriate to the cue.

To strengthen a new behavior

7. Decreasing Reinforcement Principle:

To encourage a child to continue performing an established behavior with few or no rewards, gradually require a longer time period or more correct responses before a correct behavior is rewarded.

8. Variable Reinforcement Principle:

To improve or increase a child's performance of a certain activity, provide the child with an intermittentreward.

To maintain an established behavior

9. Substitution Principle:

To change reinforcers when a previously effective reward is no longer controlling behavior, present it just before (or as soon as possible to) the time you present the new, hopefully more effective reward.

To stop inappropriate behavior

10. Satiation Principle:

To stop a child from acting in a particular way, you may allow him to continue (or insist that he continue) performing the undesired act until he tires of it.

11. Extinction Principle:

To stop a child from acting in a particular way, you may arrange conditions so that he receives no rewards following the undesired act.

12. Incompatible Alternative Principle:

To stop a child from acting in a particular way, you may reward an alternative action that is inconsistent with or cannot be performed at the same time as the undesired act.

13. Punishment Principle:

To stop a child from acting in a certain way, deliver an aversive stimuli immediately after the action occurs. Since punishment results in increased hostility and aggression, it should only be used infrequently and in conjunction with reinforcement.

To modify emotional behavior

14. Avoidance Principle:

To teach a child to avoid a certain type of situation, simultaneously present to the child the situation to be avoided (or some representation of it) and some aversive conditon (or its representation).

15. Fear Reduction Principle:

To help a child overcome his fear of a particular situation, gradually increase his exposure to the feared situation while he is otherwise comfortable, relaxed, secure or rewarded.

* Adapted from: Krumboltz, J., & Krumboltz, H. (1972). Changing children's behavior. New York: Prentice-Hall.

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