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Summary: Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis is the application of principles from operant conditioning to problems outside the conditioning laboratory. Lindsley's Simplified Precision Model is simple four-part template for behavior change.

Step 1 is to pinpoint the behavior to be modified. Step 2 is to record the rate of that behavior until a definite pattern is observed. Step 3 is to change the consequences of the behavior. Step 4, if one fails at the first attempt, is to try and try again with revised procedures.

Baseline measurement may itself produce behavior change. When this is done deliberately–for example, to help people stop smoking–it is called self-monitoring.

The Premack principle suggests that a preferred behavior can be used to reinforce less likely behaviors. Shaping is a technique that employs positive reinforcement to encourage small changes toward a target behavior.

Prompting and fading is a technique in which a behavior is first helped to occur. That is called prompting. Then help is gradually withdrawn or faded out, so the animal performs a desired behavior on its own.

Differential reinforcement is the technique of singling out some behaviors for reinforcement, while ignoring other behaviors. It comes in several varieties such as DRO (differential reinforcement of other behavior) and DRL (differential reinforcement of a low rate of behavior).

Negative reinforcement works wonders when employees are given "time off" as a reinforcer for good work. Babies are master behavior modifiers who use negative reinforcement; their crying is an aversive stimulus that motivates parents to try various behaviors to stop the crying.

Punishment is effective in certain situations. Electric fences are arguably more humane than alternatives such as barbed wire for horses and other grazing animals.

In human child-rearing, parents must beware of the "punishment trap." This occurs when children who behave well are ignored. Attention is a powerful reinforcer, so they may learn to misbehave for attention.

The solution is to "catch them being good." Animals also learn to misbehave or act sick to get attention. They, too, respond to differential reinforcement of more desirable behaviors.


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