Behaviour modification theory

Behaviour modification can improve the we we learn through reinforcing positive habits and eradicating bad ones. 

This can be achieved by modifying our behaviour through reinforcement and environmental influence. 

It stems from B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning. This is an associative learning concept where behaviour is modified by reinforcement or punishment.  

In order to understand our behaviour, it is important to look at the reasons behind this behaviour. This allows us to examine our own actions and the result of those actions based on our environment. For example, our environment can positively or negatively impact our motivation or behaviour. 


Reinforcement works as an incentive to be motivated. When we have something to work for, it can positively impact our progress. Reinforcement is also created by the removal of negative factors which can be demotivating. 

Three types of reinforcement

In Skinner’s operation conditioning theory, there are three types of responses: neutral, reinforcing and punishing. Neutral responses are neither positive nor negative. They remain in the middle. Reinforcing is a positive way of encouraging behaviour, whereas punishing responses are negative. 

This theory can be compared to Edward Thorndike’s theory ‘Law of Effect’, where certain actions result in certain consequences. For example, if someone touches a burning hot surface, likelihood of them voluntarily touching this surface again is low. 

How is behaviour modification theory useful? 

By observing and measuring our own behaviour, we become more conscious of the way we work and operate. As a result, we can change the way we behave by learning from our past experiences.

We can apply this to our learning in order to improve our understanding. For example, if a certain method of learning hasn’t work in the past, this can be avoided in future and another method can be adopted.

For this reason, behaviour modification theory is often used in schools. We can measure students’ behaviour and apply this to the way they learn. All behaviour is impacted by the consequences of that behaviour. Consequently, reinforcing positive behaviour and punishing responses to negative behaviour can be used to change the way students’ work and learn.

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