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Behavioural Psychology: Understanding and Changing Behaviour through Behaviour Modification

Introduction to Behavioural Psychology

Behavioural psychology is a well-established evidence-based approach to understanding behaviour and supporting behaviour change. As you now know, it focuses on an objective approach to behaviour, and the importance of the environment, whilst placing no special importance on thoughts, which Skinner and others describe as private behaviours. Behaviour modification is a systematic approach to changing behaviour through the application of learning principles. A great deal of research has established that the environment (in its interactions with the organism) exerts substantial influence over behaviour. Thus, changing environmental contingencies (via antecedents and/or consequences) would be expected to produce changes in behaviour. However, the notion of an interaction is important. In order for a behaviour modification programme to successfully change behaviour, it must be based on a sound understanding of the contingencies maintaining the target behaviour. Behaviour modification has been demonstrated to be very effective in a wide range of areas – e.g., education, industry, childcare, prisons, mental health units etc. This assignment involves you selecting a behaviour of yours that you wish to either increase or decrease in frequency. If you are looking at a behaviour that you want to increase, it is important that the behaviour occurs to some extent now – in this context we are looking at behaviours that already occur, not introducing new ones. The assessment will require you to undertake a simple functional assessment of the behaviour and then use that information to show how the behaviour can be understood in behavioural terms (i.e., operant and/or classical conditioning).First, describe your behaviour clearly in functional behavioural terms. Your description needs to be clear, so that the occurrence of the behaviour is not ambiguous – that is, be clear and specific on what the behaviour is, and is not.

You should use your text book and the library databases to ensure you have a good understanding or behavioural psychology, and also to see if any behavioural interventions have been reported for the behaviour in question (or related behaviours) This will give you help in designing your programme and also literature to cite. You can also check some of Skinner’s writing on related issues (About Behaviorism can be a useful resource) and you can also find various criticisms of behavioural approaches which might be helpful.

Section 1 – word count guide

Learning Outcome 1: Explore and critique main principles and concepts of domains of current psychological research and practiceYou will address Learning Outcome 1 by clearly describing the relevant behavioural processes (e.g., reinforcement, punishment, stimulus control, social learning, classical conditioning) that your consideration of your history and your functional analysis suggests are (and were) important in the development and maintenance of the behaviour. For a behaviour that you wish to reduce, there will likely be more material here, for a behaviour that you wish to increase it might be that the initial contingencies were weak etc (so you will need to think about barriers to its development, or gaps in the supporting contingencies – i.e., what/where is the environment not reinforcing the behaviour?).

Selecting a Behaviour to Modify

Overall, you need to show a good understanding and application of the behavioural processes relevant to your behaviour and you demonstrate that by explaining your behaviour in behavioural terms. Show that you understand relevant approaches from behavioural psychology – clearly explain them.

Explicitly link behavioural processes to your behaviour of interest – use your functional analysis to illustrate. How can your behaviour (in terms of development and maintenance) be understood in behavioural terms?

Use your text and Library database to locate sources that support your explanations.

Section 2 – word count guide

Learning Outcome 3: Demonstrate the ability to inform practice by investigation, exploration, problem-solving and critical reflection.Learning Outcome 3 is addressed here by considering how the information presented in Section 1 can be used to inform a behaviour modification plan to change your target behaviour. Describe how you could use your knowledge of the behaviour (from your functional assessment) and behavioural psychology to change the behaviour in the desired way. Depending on what your goal would be, you can consider positive/negative reinforcement/punishment, alternative reinforcers, using social learning theory, establishing substitute behaviours, avoiding or adjusting key antecedents etc.

Use research and theory to discuss how this understanding of the behaviour could be used to inform a simple behavioural modification programme.

Outline the key aspects and considerations of a behavioural intervention to change your behaviour.

Section 3 – word count guide

Learning Outcome 2: Critically reflect on the validity and relevance of psychology to understanding the self, others, present -day contexts and New Zealand society.Finally, Learning Outcome 2 is address by considering the strengths and weaknesses of a purely behavioural approach. As you should understand, this is a very clear, objective, evidence-based approach and so has some clear strengths. It also is explicitly focused on individual behaviour, and understanding that. However, in terms of working for you in this context, are there aspects missing, or that could be strengthened? Consider whether other aspects (e.g., personality, motivation, culture, etc) are sufficiently integrated. Can they be? How might this be accomplished?

Discuss the strengths and limitations of a behavioural approach to understanding and changing your behaviour. E.g., evidence, choice of contingencies, the role of motivation, emotion, personality, culture, and the complexity of daily life.

Consider the barriers to its success, challenges, strengths and weaknesses of a behavioural perspective.

What complimentary approaches might support the likelihood of a successful behaviour change?

Learning Outcome 4: Present work at the appropriate academic standard

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