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Behavior Modification: Sweet Tooth


Human behavior is the subject matter of behavior modification. Behavior is what people do and say (Miltenberger, 2011). The characteristics that define behavior are as follows. Behavior involves a person’s actions. It is described with action verbs. Behavior is not a static characteristic of the person. Behaviors have one or more dimensions that can be measured. You can measure the frequency of behavior; that is, you can count the number of times a behavior occurs (Hoeger & Sharon, 2010). You can measure the duration of the behavior or the time from when an instance of the behavior starts until it stops. You can measure the intensity of the behavior or the physical force involved in the behavior (Hoeger & Sharon, 2010). You can measure the intensity of the behavior or the physical force involved in the behavior, or the latency from some event to the start of a behavior (Hoeger & Sharon, 2010). Frequency, duration, intensity, and latency are all physical dimensions of behavior.

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Behavior modification

Behavior modification is the field of psychology concerned with analyzing and modifying human behavior (Miltenberger, 2011; Hoeger & Sharon, 2010). Analyzing means identifying the functional relationship between environmental events and a particular behavior to understand the reasons for behavior or to determine why a person behaved as he or she did. Modifying means developing and implementing procedures to help people change their behavior. It involves altering procedures to influence behavior.

Characteristics of behavior modification

There is a focus on behavior. Behavior modification procedures are designed to change behavior, not a personal characteristic or trait. Behavior excesses ad deficits are targets for change with behavior modification procedures. In behavior modification, the behavior to be modified is called the target behavior. A behavioral excess is an undesirable target behavior the person wants to decrease in frequency, duration, or intensity (Marr, 2010). In this case, the target behavior which we are going to be working on is the “sweet tooth” behavior. In this case, there is an overemphasis on the intake of sweets and sugary foods, which have a negative impact on the overall wellbeing of the person under study. The procedure which shall be taken shall be based on established principles that are based on research in applied behavior analysis. There will be an emphasis on current environmental events. This entails assessing and modifying the current environmental events that are functionally related to the behavior. In this case, once the controlling variables have been identified, they are going to be altered to be able to modify the target behavior (Marr, 2010). Successful behavior modification procedures alter the functional relationship between the behavior and the controlling variables in the environment to produce a desired change in the behavior.

Defining the target behavior

The first stepping in developing a behavior recoding plan is to define the target behavior. To define the target behavior for a particular person or case, you must exactly what the person says or does that constitutes the behavioral excess or deficit targets for change. A behavioral definition includes active verbs describing specific behaviors that a person exhibits (Sherman, 1990). A behavioral definition is objective and unambiguous. The behavioral definition does not refer to any internal states such as being angry, upset, or sad. The behavioral definition does not make inferences about a person’s intentions. Intentions cannot be observed, and inferences about intentions often are incorrect (Sherman, 1990). One characteristic of a good behavioral definition is that after seeing the definition, different people can observe the same behavior and agree that the behavior is occurring. When two people independently observe the same behavior and both record that the behavior occurred, this is called inter-observer agreement.

The Logistics of recording

The observer

We have defined the target behavior to be recorded for a client, that is, a person who exhibits the target behavior and with whom the behavior modification program will be implemented. The next step is to identify who will observe and record the behavior. In a behavior modification program, the target behavior is typically observed and recorded by a person other than the one exhibiting the target behavior (Miltenberger, 2011). The observer should be able to approach the client in order to observe the behavior when it occurs.

In some cases, the observer is the person exhibiting the target behavior. When the client observes and records his or her own target behavior, it is called self-monitoring (Elmes, Barry, & Henry, 2011). Self-monitoring is valuable when it is not possible for another observer to record the target behavior, as when the target behavior occurs infrequently or when it occurs when no one else is present. Self-monitoring may also be combined with direct observation by another observer.

When and how to record

The observer records the target behavior in a specific period called the observation period. It is important to choose an observation period at the time when the target behavior is likely to occur. Indirect assessment information from the client or others may indicate the best time to schedule the observation period (Sherman, 1990). The timing of the observation periods also is determined by the availability of the observer (s) and the constraints imposed by the client’s activities or preferences.

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Observation and recording of behavior take place in natural settings or in analog settings. A natural setting consists of the places in which the target behavior typically occurs (Sherman, 1990). Observing and recording a target behavior in the classroom is an example of a natural setting for a student.

Observation of the target behavior can be structured or unstructured. When observations are structured, the observer arranges for specific events or activities to occur during the observation period. During unstructured observations, no specific events or activities are arranged, and no instructions are given during the observation period.

When self-monitoring is used, the client may be able to observe and record the target behavior throughout the day and may not be able to observe and record the target behavior throughout the day and not be constrained by a specific observation period (Miltenberger, 2011). For example, clients who are self the number of cigarettes they smoke each day can record each cigarette smoked regardless of when they smoke it (Marr, 2010). However, some behaviors may occur with such frequency that the client could not record continuously throughout the day, for example, a client who stutters hundreds of times throughout the day. In cases such as this, the client would be instructed to record the behavior during observation periods agreed in advance with the psychologist.

Choosing a recording method

Different aspects of the target behavior may be measured using different recording methods. These methods include continuous recording, product recording, interval recording, and a time sample recording.

Choosing a recording instrument

The final step in developing a behavior recording plan is to choose a recording instrument. The recording instrument is what the observer uses to register or make a permanent product of the occurrence of the behavior (Miltenberger, 2011). Put simply; the observer makes a note on the paper each time he or she observes the behavior. To record behavior most effectively, the observer uses a data sheet prepared in advance for the particular behavior (Marr, 2010). The datasheet helps organize the recording process by making it clear what the observer is to write down when the behavior occurs.

The observer puts a checkmark in the corresponding interval box. If the target behavior does not occur during an interval, the observer leaves that internal box blank. Alternatively, each interval box could have one or more codes. The observer circles or puts a checkmark through the code that represents the behavior being observed in that interval.

Other procedures for recording behavior involve writing the behavior down each time it occurs. Likewise, a person who is recording his behavior might keep a small notepad in his shirt pocket; every time he exhibits the behavior, he pulls out the note pad and makes a note of it. Not all instruments for recording behavior depend on paper and pencil. Anything you can use to register each occurrence of a behavior can be considered a behavior recording instrument (Miltenberger, 2011).

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This process is going to be having seven major steps. Essentially, over the course of many years, we all develop habits that we would like to change at some point. The adage “old habits die hard” comes to mind (Hoeger & Sharon, 2010). Acquiring positive behaviors that will lead to better health and well–being requires continual effort. When wellness is concerned, the sooner we implement a healthy lifestyle program, the great is the health benefits and quality of life that lie ahead. Adopting the following steps and strategies will always ensure that there is progress that is being realized.

Step one: Self-analysis

The first step in modifying the sweet tooth behavior is a decisive desire to do so. As we all know, one of the most important things that we need to address in this world is to first establish which behavior is to be changed. One will need to prepare a list of reasons for continuing or discontinuing the behavior. When the reasons for changing outweigh the reasons for not changing, then one is ready for the next step.

In this case, the behavior which needs to be changed is the one that involves the desire for sweets after a meal (Sherman, 1990). This behavior has been considered to be a problem since it may cause some harm in the future, so there is a need to modify it appropriately. Essentially, eating too many sweets leads to weight gain, which can lead to diabetes and other health-related issues. The goal at hand is to reduce the number of sweets that are consumed in a day with the intention of reducing the sweet intake entirely.

Step two

This was to develop a daily for three weeks to establish the frequency of the behavior. This was done as follows, after every meal, the observer was able to record the type of meal that had been taken plus the constituents of the meal (Sherman, 1990). At the end of the day, on average, the observer realized that he had at least two sweets after a meal, which is excluding the breakfast.

This step is important is to determine the frequency, circumstances, and consequences of the behavior to be altered or implemented. The desired outcome, in this case, is to reduce the number of sweets consumed on a daily basis. With this having taken place, one will be able to establish strategies to counter this habit. In this case, the antecedent is a meal (Hoeger & Sharon, 2010). This is followed by the behavior which is taking of sweets and lastly, the consequence which is the effect of consuming sweets as illustrated above.

Goal setting

A goal motivates change in behavior. The stronger the goal or desire, the more motivated you will be either to change unwanted behaviors or to implement new healthy behaviors. The observer developed smart goals and prepared an action plan to achieve the goals stipulated.

The smart goals were to be achieved in a span of three weeks. This was implemented in the following approach. First, the observer was to replace the sweet which he was taking with fruits (Miltenberger, 2011). That is, for each serving of sweet each day, it was the obligation of the observer to replace that serving with a fruit or vegetable during the next day. This is because the fruits are considered to be natural sweets, which would do much better than eating unhealthy sweets. This went on for three weeks.

Evaluation of progress

During the action and maintenance stages, continuous behavior monitoring increased the awareness of the desired outcome. In this case, the observer was to gradually cut down gradually or completely eliminate sweets. Since the goal was to reduce the intake of sweets, the observer kept track of the progress by awarding the value of two points to every number of sweets that were eaten during the day. Each sweet was calculated individually (Miltenberger, 2011). For example, if the observer had two cookies after lunch and one slice of cake after dinner, the total points for that day were calculated as 6 points. Healthy sweets such as fruits were not calculated against the observer. The points were calculated at the end of each week. The decrease or the increase of points for each week for three weeks was represented by a graph format to indicate the progress which was made.

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in conclusion, because behavior modification problems have a great deal of research support today for their effectiveness in treating psychosocial problems and changing behaviors, they are widely applied. Self-management programs have people use behavior modification techniques to change their own behavior, often under supervision, in order to manage their lives better.

Essentially, this was a major challenge during the process of enacting the stated program. Although people often blame their lack of willpower, then their efforts to change a behavior fail to achieve their outcome or behavioral goal; the main reasons involved not avoiding tempting situations and not having needed skills. In self-management, people apply skills derived from principles of behavior change to modify their own behavior.


Elmes, D., Barry, K., & Henry, R. (2011). Research Methods in Psychology. California: Cengage Learning.

Hoeger, W., & Sharon, H. (2010). Fitness and Wellness. California: Cengage Learning.

Marr, J. (2010). Manual of Behavior Modification. New York: Xlibris Corporation.

Miltenberger, R. (2011). Behavior Modification: Principles and Procedures. California: Cengage Learning.

Sherman, W. (1990). Behavior modification. New York:Harper & Row.

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