Myths and Misconceptions About Behavior and Behavior Management
Myths and misconceptions associated with behavior management procedures have led to public and professional hostility toward behavioral principles, behavior modification in general (Gelfand & Hartmann, 1984; Kazdin, 1975, 1978), and the use of behavioral procedures in the classroom (see Akin-Little, Little, & Gresham, 2004). These misconceptions have developed over the long history of behavior management as the term behavior modification and the techniques associated with the term have been abused and misused. The association of behavior modification with non-behavioral methods such as drug therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, psychosurgery, and sterilization provides an example of common errors made among the uninformed. According to Kazdin (1978):
It cannot be overemphasized that these techniques are not a part of behavior modification. They are not derived from psychological research nor do they depend upon reversible alterations of social and environmental conditions to change behavior. (p. 341)
Although many of these medical interventions do change or modify behavior and thus may be confused with behavior modification, "clear differences exist between medical and behavioral interventions" (Kazdin, 1978, p. 341). Unfortunately, many educators do not understand these differences.
The perception of punishment as the primary strategy of behaviorists, especially during the early years of application by Lovass, has also led to negative reactions, even among professionals. Alberto and Troutman (1995) go so far as to discourage teachers from using the term behavior modification when communicating with others about behavior management techniques:
We simply suggest that teachers avoid using the term with uninformed or misinformed people. In many cases, other professionals, including administrative staff and fellow teachers, may be as confused as parents and school board members....It may be as necessary to educate these fellow professionals as it is to teach children. (p. 43)
Some suggest replacing the terminology used in behavior modification with more humanizing language (Saunders & Reppucci, 1978; Wilson & Evans, 1978). Kazdin and Cole (1981) found that individuals labeled identical intervention procedures as less acceptable when they were described in behavioral terms (reinforcement, punishment, contingencies) versus humanistic terms (personal growth and development).
In an interview with Coleman (1987), B. F. Skinner talked about the decline of behaviorism, blaming it on the association between behaviorism and punishment. Skinner was an opponent of punishing methods such as spanking and other aversive techniques used to control behavior. On numerous occasions before his death in 1990, Skinner encouraged caregivers to use positive behavior management approaches and to avoid the use of aversive interventions. Changing the negative image of many effective behavior management techniques will require a significant amount of education for professionals and the general public. An attempt to outline additional behavior management concerns and a brief discussion of each are provided next.
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