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Summary: Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis is the application of principles from operant conditioning to "real life" problems outside the conditioning laboratory. Lindsley's Simplified Precision Model recommends first pinpointing the behavior to be modified, recording the rate of that behavior, changing the consequences of the behavior, then (if one fails at the first attempt to change behavior) trying again with revised procedures.

The first step in any behavioral intervention is to specify the behaviors targeted for change. Next, baseline measurements should continue until a stable pattern of behavior is observed. . During baselining, antecedent stimuli should also be observed; they are often important in behavior analysis. 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 Prompting and fading is a technique in which a behavior is helped to occur, then help is gradually withdrawn or faded out until the organism is performing the desired behavior on its own. Differential reinforcement is the technique of singling out some behaviors for reinforcement, while ignoring other behaviors.

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 to encourage nurturing behavior in parents.

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," which occurs when children are ignored until they misbehave. The solution is to "catch them being good." Animals can also learn to misbehave or act ill, if it gets them attention. They, too, respond better to kindness than punishment.

Analysis of antecedents can prove helpful in changing behavior. Dieters are often advised to avoid eating in front of the TV, so television does not become an S+ for eating. Time of day can be used as a discriminative stimulus for desirable behaviors such as studying. B.F. Skinner used this technique when he set aside a certain time every morning for writing.


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