Myths and Misconceptions About Behavior and Behavior Management (page 2)
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.
Myth 1: Changing Another Person's Behavior Is Coercive
For some, trying to change another person's behavior is a violation of that person's freedom and other rights. For example, in Classroom Connection 1.3, Randy's teacher does not believe that it is coercive to mandate that he wear a coat before going outside. To her, teaching Randy to wear a coat in the winter is both educational and a health-related concern.
To further address this issue, we must first consider what our responsibilities are regarding the children placed in our care. Do teachers have a responsibility to prepare students for their place within society, to teach them the social skills necessary to survive in the world, and to teach behaviors that will allow them to interact effectively and communicate with others within the home, school, workplace, and general community? Most teachers (and parents) would respond yes. The question then is not whether it is coercive to change a child's behavior; we do this daily in our homes and schools. Rather, the significant questions are who decides whether a child's behavior should be changed, what behaviors should be changed, and which techniques should be used to change the behavior (Gelfand & Hartmann, 1984)?
Myth 2: The Use of Reinforcement to Change Behavior Is a Form of Bribery
Some teachers believe that reinforcing students for appropriate behavior is simply a form of bribery used to get them to behave appropriately. In a worst-case situation, the students may even turn the tables and try to bribe the teacher (e.g., ''I'll behave if you give me a cookie"). Kazdin (1975) states that people who confuse reinforcement with bribery do not understand the definition and intent of each. He describes the difference between bribery and reinforcement this way:
Bribery refers to the illicit use of rewards, gifts, or favors to pervert judgment or corrupt the conduct of someone. With bribery, reward is used for the purpose of changing behavior, but the behavior is corrupt, illegal, or immoral in some way. With reinforcement, as typically employed, events are delivered for behaviors [that] are generally agreed upon to benefit the client, society, or both. (p. 50)
Clearly, there are significant differences between bribery and giving students attention for appropriate behaviors. Moreover, if students do not get our attention following appropriate behavior, they will try to get our attention by acting inappropriately. In Classroom Connection 1.3, Randy's behavior was met with both punishing and reinforcing consequences. When he was noncompliant, he was not allowed to go outside with the other children and, thus, his behavior was punished. When he did wear his coat, he was allowed to go outside and, thus, his behavior was reinforced. Many teachers use consequences in this manner every day but will state that they do not believe in using reinforcement or other principles of behavior management.
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