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Behaviour Modification: For Citizens and Academicians

Des Walsh

Behaviour modification is something that many teachers and parents regard with great suspicion. The cause for this distrust is not hard to find. The jargon of the process has a mind-bending ring to it: 'operant conditioning', 'contingency management', 'reinforcement learning', 'maladaptive functioning' and so on, and hints strongly at a laboratory-oriented, push-button control of a 'subject's behaviour'. And reactions to this jargon predictably include 'It might be OK for training animals, but not for kids', or 'It dehumanises people' or 'We shouldn't be bribing kids to do what we want them to do. The satisfaction of a job well done should be a sufficient reward', and so on.

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