From Behavioral Science to
Behavior Modification by Harry Kalish
Harry Kalish’s engaging college level
tome argues that we should focus on learning and current conditions, that
Environments deserve attention because few changes can be made to the genes of living humans
with present technologies.
Behavior modification offers four
general alternatives: Reward and withholding reward, aversive stimulus and withholding aversive stimulus. Behaviorists
see words and thoughts as forms of stimuli. Yelling, whispering, and
arguments are considered stimuli just as a carrot and stick are.
Quickly acquired and long lasting,
avoidance learning (phobias, for example) needlessly harms us, leading to the neurotic paradox: Attempts to avoid anxiety produce more anxiety. Evasion as a stress reducing method erodes
freedom and flexibility.
Feeling and acting in control is one
better method of reducing stress.
Getting newly learned behavior to
transfer to beneficial situations remains difficult. Kalish
suggests using a variety of stimuli in a variety of settings. It does no good
to learn how to be friendly with only your best friend. We should
tailor practice toward generalization.
Numerous fascinating, and sometimes bizarre,
side boxes dot this work. One woman happily wore a chastity belt to assuage
her jealous husband. Her husband came home at lunch, so she could use the bathroom.
Another box tells the story of mothers
who tried to pay attention to only desirable actions in their children. The mothers produced worse behavior because total attention declined 25 to 50 percent
from when children gained attention for being destructive. Regressing
to an earlier age is one way children attempt to get attention.
Some noteworthy points made by Kalish: Conditioning affects humans, including those who think of themselves as self-created gods. Much conditioning is unconscious.
Depending on the individual traits present, promotions
and responsibilities can be more punishing than rewarding. Status envy matters: Children envy, identify with, and
imitate those who control food and love, freedom and other resources. Stimuli must quickly follow an action to succeed. Exinction bursting: Taking away a reinforcer causes
individuals to try to get the reinforcer back. Children having tantrums initially throw even worse tantrums when adults stop catering to tantrums.
To help make behavior last, you can, one, get peers to help; two, get individuals to reason and add better strands to their
values; three, teach individuals to enjoy their activities, especially duties; four, use intermittent rewards once tangible rewards are
withdrawn; five, find ways to make activities more satisfying; six, practice new learning; seven, solve problems arising from new ideas and actions such
as the problem of new actions not “feeling right” because they are outside
old comfort zones; seven, make sure new emotions and actions are as automatic as bad habits.
Punishments have big downsides,
especially if not used judiciously. Punishments need to be combined with
rewards, but rewards should not be used immediately after a punishment. Otherwise,
the punishment serves as a cue for the reward, which leads to wrong actions and
ills such as masochism. A child misbehaving to get attention is an example of
rewards interfering with learning.
Sometimes punishment stops learning
because it creates defensiveness or other bad responses (for example, learned
helplessness). Punishment, in addition, teaches what not to do rather
than what to do.
Over time tolerance of a punishment
increases. Individuals engaged in nagging regularly increase the level of nagging until their
behavior seems ludicrous.
Vicious cycles undermine attempts to
stop smoking, drinking, and overeating. Bad emotions lead to indulgence,
which leads to ruminating about will power, then self-flagellation, leading
to more indulgence.
Overeaters often eat based on mood or habit
rather than severe hunger. Even enjoyable experiences (elation, for example) lead
to overeating. Kalish also summarizes some causes of depression. Worth
—book review article by JT Fournier, last updated July 5, 2009