Behavioral Theory Research Paper

This sample education research paper on behavioral theory features: 5600 words (approx. 18 pages) and a bibliography with 12 sources. Browse other research paper examples for more inspiration. If you need a thorough research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.

A behavioral view of teaching and learning is based on the fundamental idea that behavior is controlled by its consequences. Put simply, behaviors that are followed by consequences that are perceived as pleasant or desirable tend to occur more frequently. Conversely, behaviors that are followed by unpleasant or undesirable consequences tend to occur less frequently. There are at least five common behavioral operations based on this general principle, and each is described briefly in this research-paper. These include positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, extinction, response cost punishment, and punishment using aversives. Note that the last of these—the application of aversives—is highly controversial, and in educational contexts the use of aversives has been all but abolished.

Behavioral theory is seen at work in education most obviously in the management of classroom behavior, but its theories and operations can be used to teach, enhance, and maintain a number of specific social and academic behaviors as well. Subsequent sections of this research-paper include (a) a brief overview of behavioral theory, (b) a description of the basic behavioral operations that form the foundation of educational practice from a behavioral perspective, (c) several examples of how these operations might be observed in or applied to classroom practice, and (d) discussion of the practical limitations of a behavioral view, including common criticisms of a behavioral approach to teaching.

Behavioral Theory

Behavioral theory was well established in the first half of the 20th century in experimental and clinical settings as researchers examined a number of behavioral operations that could be used to modify and shape the behavior of animals and later humans. John B. Watson is often credited with introducing the foundational concepts of behaviorism in the early 1900s. Watson also emphasized a more objective focus in psychology, which contradicted much of the prevailing thought of his time. Instead of focusing on thoughts, feelings, or unobservable introspections, Watson believed that psychology would benefit tremendously by taking a more objective view of observable behavior. Beginning in the 1930s, the most prominent behavioral scholar was B. F. Skinner, whose work was important in his description and elaboration of the fundamentals of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning encompasses several principles which form the basis for the behavioral techniques that have become hallmarks of behaviorism as applied to teaching and learning in classrooms. The most important among these may be reinforcement, punishment, and extinction. Briefly, reinforcement refers to an increase in the frequency of responding, punishment refers to a decrease in the frequency of responding, and extinction refers to a decrease in the frequency of a previously reinforced response. A fuller definition of these principles and applied examples of each are provided in subsequent sections of this research-paper.

The layperson most often envisions early behavioral theorists and researchers teaching white rats or pigeons to press a bar or touch a button to receive a reward; indeed, it is true that much of the early work in behavioral theory focused on animals in laboratory settings. In the latter half of the 20th century behavioral theory was applied in earnest to education. In the 1960s, tremendous growth occurred in the application of behavioral theory to classroom learning and behavior problems, and an emphasis on research in applied (i.e., real) settings became increasingly common. The systematic application of behavioral theory to clinical problems marked the development of applied behavior analysis—a method for the study of behavior and analysis of the variables that cause or set the stage for behavior to occur (i.e., antecedents), as well as the variables that determine whether a behavior is likely to increase or diminish in occurrence (i.e., consequences). This type of analysis of behavior, a careful and systematic look at sequences of antecedent-behavior-consequence (frequently referred to as A-B-C analysis), has become a hallmark of teachers’ efforts to analyze and solve classroom behavior problems, and also provides the foundation for more formal applications of functional analysis, or functional behavior analysis (FBA). In fact, in the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), specific language was included requiring educators to conduct an FBA for students with disabilities exhibiting severe behavior problems. The rich literature that has accrued in the area of applied behavior analysis in the last half of the 20th century has provided educators a substantial research base from which to draw when addressing learning and behavioral problems in classrooms. The next section delineates the most commonly used and useful behavioral procedures this literature has made available to educators.

Methods: Basic Behavioral Operations

The five basic behavioral operations that are most readily applied to teaching and learning include (a) positive reinforcement, (b) negative reinforcement, (c) extinction, (d) response cost punishment, and (e) punishment involving the application of aversives.

Positive Reinforcement

The concept of reinforcement is often misunderstood, and the need to distinguish between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement may add to this confusion. Consider first the term reinforcement itself. It is important to note that the term reinforcement describes an effect, namely that a behavior is strengthened or made more likely to occur by the consequences that follow it. Thus, if a teacher or parent implements some form of consequence after the occurrence of a behavior, and the behavior is observed to be more likely to occur as a result, then reinforcement is said to have occurred. Conversely, consequences that are implemented following behavior that do not affect the likelihood of behavior occurring again— regardless of the intent of the person providing the consequence—cannot be said to result in reinforcement. In practice, teachers make a common semantic error when they say that they tried “reinforcement,” but it didn’t work or that they have given students some type of “reinforcement,” but that the students’ behavior did not improve. Again, a particular consequence is said to be a reinforcer when and only when its contingent use results in increased rates or likelihood of behavior occurring.

The notion of contingency is a critical element of the definition of reinforcement, but this may easily escape the notice of teachers in day-to-day classroom practice. To use behavioral theory to influence behavior, consequences that follow a behavior cannot occur at random or only some of the time. Consequences must occur contingently. In order to conclude that a particular consequence has an effect on a specific behavior, the effect of that consequence must be assessed when it is applied when and only when the behavior in question occurs. Suppose a teacher has trouble with students who show up late for class. The teacher decides to give points to students when they are on time to class. Points can be exchanged later for computer time, and the teacher believes that this consequence might increase the rate at which students come to class on time. If the teacher only awards these points on some of the occasions that students are on time, or worse, awards points occasionally when students show up late, the contingency requirement is violated. There would be no basis upon which to draw any conclusion at all in this case about the effectiveness of points for computer time as a reinforcer for coming to class on time.

Note in the preceding example that if the teacher had been able to implement this consequence contingently, always giving points to students who were on time and never awarding points to students who were late, a conclusion could be drawn about the effect of this consequence. If arrival to class on time improved, even for some students, it could be concluded that points for computer time indeed served as a reinforcer for on-time arrival for these students. If the arrival of other students was not influenced, it would further be concluded that computer time was not a reinforcer for these particular students’ on-time arrival. This latter notion, that some consequences are reinforcing for certain behaviors in some students but not necessarily in others, presents a challenge to teachers to continually monitor the effect of all of their behavior management strategies on all students.

Given that the term reinforcement refers only to the effect that is observed when a behavior is made more likely to occur, a further distinction must be drawn between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. It may be easiest to grasp the distinction between the two by associating the term positive with adding and the term negative with subtracting, or taking away. Positive reinforcement, then, is the effect that occurs when a behavior is strengthened because something is added to a situation by a teacher, parent, or other caregiver. (In fact, consequences need not be added by a person; some consequences are said to be naturally occurring, such as the classic example of a child touching a hot stove.) Note that what is added to the situation can take many forms. A social gesture or positive words (e.g., praise, a smile, a pat on the back), an activity or privilege (e.g., extra recess, time to play a computer game, choice of where to eat lunch), or a tangible object (e.g., food, toys, or stickers) can have a reinforcing effect on behavior.

Behavioral theory posits that behavior is maintained by consequences; it does not matter whether those consequences are planned or delivered intentionally. It is for this reason that the A-B-C analysis described earlier may be quite valuable for teachers. Consider the following example: A student disrupts class by asking irrelevant questions or making off-task comments (e.g., What time is lunch? or This class is boring.). A teacher would be wise to analyze what happens when this behavior occurs to help determine what consequences are maintaining this behavior, or making it more likely to occur. For example, do other students laugh? Does the teacher come over and give the child individual attention? In such cases, the student’s disruptive behavior may be reinforced, even though this is clearly not what the teacher wanted or intended to happen.

Negative Reinforcement

If positive reinforcement refers to the effect of a behavior being strengthened when something is added, it is easy to understand that negative reinforcement refers to a behavior being strengthened when something is taken away. The logic here is that with positive reinforcement, what is added when a behavior occurs must be something desirable, at least for that particular student. With negative reinforcement, what is taken away must be perceived as unpleasant or undesirable by the student if its removal is to have the effect of strengthening a behavior. Two examples are common in schools. Suppose a teacher promises students that if they work hard and complete an entire assignment before the class period ends, they will not be given a homework assignment for that evening. If students increase their work behavior and effort during class in order to complete the assignment, and thus avoid the homework assignment, then negative reinforcement has occurred. That is, their work behavior in class increased because of the removal of a consequence they wished to avoid. Consider a situation in which students who earn A’s for each grading period during the academic year are exempted from taking a final exam for a given course. If in fact particular students’ effort, work behavior, accuracy, or productivity increased during the year, we could say that these behaviors were negatively reinforced. In practice, teachers may seldom plan and use negative reinforcement intentionally; one reason for this is that some sort of negative or undesirable consequence must be in place for them to remove. Unfortunately, negative reinforcement may be at work in a much more common way that can reciprocally influence the behavior of both teachers and students. This is known as the negative reinforcement trap.

The Negative Reinforcement Trap

In the early 1980s, Gerald Patterson described the negative reinforcement trap in terms of coercion that often occurs within families (e.g., Patterson, 1982). He described a process in which a child might be directed by a parent to complete a task or chore, such as cleaning the bedroom. Finding the request and the prospect of cleaning the room unpleasant, the child resists, complains, and whines, which results in the parent repeating the request, perhaps with greater emotion and increasing threats of punishment. A negative cycle of nagging and whining often follows, with each participant escalating the negative behavior they are displaying toward the other. What Patterson described as the negative reinforcement trap, however, occurs when a parent gives in. If a parent, understandably stressed by the child’s whining and complaining and possibly facing a multitude of other family and work responsibilities as well, finally relents and stops demanding that the child clean the bedroom, the whining and complaining predictably stop as well. But what has happened according to behavioral theory is that the behavior of both parties—the negative behavior—may have been negatively reinforced, and thus may be more likely to occur in the future, perpetuating this negative cycle. The child obviously found the parent’s demands, nagging, and the prospect of cleaning the room unpleasant; the child wished to avoid these. By whining and complaining, the child accomplished this goal. The whining was negatively reinforced because an unpleasant consequence (cleaning the room, the parent’s nagging) was removed. We would predict based on this exchange that the child will whine and complain again the next time the parent makes this same request.

The danger of the negative reinforcement trap, however, lies in what happens to the parent. The parent’s clear goal was to have the child clean the bedroom, but this goal was waylaid by the child’s complaining and whining. Assuming the parent found the whining aversive and wished to avoid it, we might conclude that the parent’s relenting (ceasing the demanding and nagging) was also negatively reinforced. Thus we would predict that this behavior too will be more likely to occur in the future. It is precisely because each participant’s behavior was negatively reinforced that Patterson termed such interchanges negative reinforcement traps.

Consider a classroom example of the negative reinforcement trap. If a student disrupts a math class persistently and with increasing intensity, a teacher may be taxed to the point that he or she considers removal of the student from the room the only option. Perhaps the student is sent to the hallway, to another teacher’s room, or to the office (in theory to complete class work independently). This interchange carries the hallmark characteristics of a negative reinforcement trap. The teacher found the student’s disruptions aversive, and sending the student out of the room removed that aversive. The teacher may now be more likely to remove students from the room in the future when they are disruptive. It seems highly likely that the student found math class (or perhaps just this particular topic, assignment, or teacher) less than enjoyable (i.e., aversive) and wished to avoid it. The disruptive behavior was negatively reinforced when the demands of math class were essentially taken away. It is now predictable that this student will disrupt class again in the future when he or she finds it aversive, and more important, the teacher will be more likely to remove the student from the classroom. As with the parenting example, both parties got what they wanted in the short term, but the ultimate goals (cleaning the bedroom and participating appropriately in math class) were not accomplished. The interchange is a trap because both parties’ behavior was negatively reinforced.


If reinforcing consequences have come to maintain the occurrence of a particular behavior, it is also predictable that if those consequences cease or are taken away, the behavior will decrease. The cessation of behavior when the consequences supporting it are withdrawn is called extinction. In classrooms, extinction is important in at least two ways. The first is in the application of extinction by planned ignoring. Students often engage in disruptive or off-task behavior because it garners the attention of others. Suppose a child calls out answers, makes inappropriate comments, or asks irrelevant questions during a lesson or activity that requires hand raising before responding. If the teacher attends to these off-task responses, even in a seemingly neutral or negative way (e.g., “We’re not talking about lunch now” or “Please don’t call out answers before you raise your hand”), it is possible that this attention is reinforcing, causing the behavior to re-occur. In this case, the teacher may choose to ignore the off-task comments, instead focusing on students who are raising their hands or otherwise responding appropriately. According to behavioral theory, the disruptive student’s off-task comments will decrease when the attention that was supporting them is no longer provided.

There are two important caveats for the teacher considering the use of extinction in this way. The first is to be aware of an extinction burst, a predictable but temporary increase in the behavior that is being ignored. The extinction burst is quite understandable; if a student is acting out in order to get attention from peers or teachers, and suddenly they ignore the student’s acting out, a logical response would be to act out more, or more loudly, to try to get the attention he or she is used to receiving. While such an increase is predictable, so too is the cessation that occurs as long as the attention or other reinforcer that was originally supporting the behavior is not reintroduced. The second caveat is to be certain that it is teacher attention that is supporting or maintaining the behavior in the first place. If a student is acting inappropriately because it garners the laughter or attention of classmates, there is no reason for a teacher to try ignoring such behavior.

The desirable behavior students display, and which teachers hope will continue to occur, is also subject to extinction if positive consequences are withdrawn. If students have learned that assignment completion or appropriate playground, hallway, or bus behavior, for example, results in some form of reinforcement, they may well discontinue this positive behavior if positive consequences that originally supported these behaviors are withdrawn. Thus a behavioral theorist might argue that even students who seem to display positive behavior without obvious or overt systems of reinforcement in place probably still need at least intermittent reinforcement in some form so that their positive behavior is recognized and does not diminish.

In addition to the reinforcements that typify most of behavioral theory as it is applied to education, there are procedures designed to decrease behavior. Punishment refers to the effect of a behavior becoming less likely to occur as a result of some contingency. There are two broad types of punishment: response cost punishment and punishment involving the application of aversives.

Response Cost Punishment

Many educators, and particularly special educators, favor a strong emphasis on positive procedures to increase appropriate behavior. A part of the theory underlying an all-positive emphasis is that as appropriate behavior is taught and reinforced, there are fewer opportunities for students to engage in inappropriate or negative behavior. Many times the strategy used by teachers is to teach incompatible behaviors to replace negative behavior. To eliminate students’ out-of-seat behavior, teachers can simply reinforce in-seat behavior. To reduce talking out in class, they can reinforce students for listening quietly to the teacher or others. But research suggests that positive-only procedures may fall short of dealing effectively with all negative behavior. Response cost punishment offers one alternative procedure for responding to negative behavior in a way that will reduce it. Put simply, response cost punishment is the removal of some portion of an earned reinforcer contingent upon the occurrence of an undesirable behavior. Suppose that students earn points during the day for turning in their homework, completing class assignments, displaying appropriate behavior in the classroom, and the like. They accumulate points throughout the day that can be exchanged at a later time for some social, tangible, or activity reward. To use response cost, a teacher takes away an earned point or points when misbehavior occurs. The negative response (misbehavior) thus costs the students some measure of reinforcement. The major benefit of a response cost system is that a student who misbehaves at one point during the day, but otherwise has had a productive, positive day, will still earn most of the available reinforcement. Response cost systems work especially well within management systems that use points or tokens. Students earn points for a variety of prosocial or positive academic behaviors they might engage in, but they also lose points for negative or disruptive behavior. In this system it is particularly important that students clearly understand the rules and consequences, knowing exactly what behaviors and responses earn them points as well as those that cause them to lose points. It is also critical that students have ample opportunities to earn reinforcement before losing any for misbehavior, as well as opportunities to essentially earn back reinforcers they have lost.

Punishment Involving the Application of Aversives

As mentioned previously, the use of aversives is highly controversial and has been all but abolished in most educational settings. The theory underlying aversives is the opposite of positive reinforcement. The contingent application of an aversive stimulus—one that causes physical or emotional pain or discomfort—will result in a decrease in the likelihood of occurrence of behavior. Aversives can range from harsh physical punishments, like spanking or hitting, to milder aversives that cause emotional rather than physical discomfort, such as scolding or verbal reprimands. There are three dangers of harsh aversives: (a) the use of aversives provides a model of aggressive, negative behavior for students; (b) applying aversives does not teach students positive behavior (i.e., it does not show students what to do, focusing instead only on what not to do); and (c) aversives may teach students to avoid the person applying the punishment rather than to stop engaging in the behavior.

In contrast to harsh aversives, there is some evidence that milder aversives can be effective in reducing misbehavior, especially when combined with other positive procedures designed to teach and reinforce appropriate behavior. “Soft reprimands,” as described by O’Leary, Kaufman, Kass, and Drabman (1970), can be especially effective. According to the work of O’Leary et al., and more recently Walker, Ramsey, and Gresham (2004), an effective reprimand simply tells a student that a particular behavior is unacceptable, explains why it is unacceptable, and tells the student what to do instead. Moreover, appropriate reprimands are not delivered in public and are delivered calmly and quickly.

Applications of Basic Behavioral Operations

Examples of the most common behavioral procedures typically applied or observed in classrooms are teacher praise, the use of token systems, and the combination of reinforcement approaches with extinction, known as differential reinforcement. Because the notion of contingency is important to all of these procedures, it is reiterated here.

Many behavioral procedures are named using the term contingency or contingent. For example, in the literature on teacher praise, the term contingent teacher attention is often used. Teachers and others concerned with managing behavior must be carefully attuned to the extent to which any consequences that occur are truly contingent upon the occurrence of a targeted behavior. The term contingent means simply that the consequence occurs when and only when the behavior in question occurs. Suppose a teacher wishes to know whether providing stickers to students will improve their rates of on-task behavior. To assess this, the teacher must provide stickers to students when and only when they are on task; if stickers are provided when students are not on task or to some students who are on task and some who are not on task, the teacher will never know for sure what effect stickers have on students’ on-task behavior.

Teacher Praise

Teacher praise, or contingent teacher attention, is among the most researched interventions teachers can use to enhance the social and academic behavior of students. Strain, Lambert, Kerr, Stagg, and Lenkner (1983) observed that “literally hundreds of classroom based studies have shown that teachers’ delivery of social reinforcement can result in improved academic performance . . . rule following and good school deportment . . . cognitive and linguistic performance . . . and increased social responsiveness” (p. 243). The idea behind teacher praise is simple: it is positive reinforcement that uses social attention from the teacher as the reinforcer.

There are several elements associated with the effective use of teacher praise. First, praise must be contingent, occurring when and only when the desired behavior occurs. Second, praise must occur in close temporal proximity to the behavior. Telling a child today that his or her behavior on the playground yesterday was very good may have little direct effect on playground behavior. Finally, praise must be motivational; the words and tone must convey to the student that his or her work, effort, or behavior was of high quality (e.g., “Nice work!” or “Great job!”) or was greatly appreciated (e.g., “Thanks so much for doing that!”). But these motivational statements alone are not effective unless coupled with more information about how or why the work or effort was of high quality. For example, if a student has crafted a particularly well-written paragraph, a simple “nice job!” is unlikely to produce much effect. It would be more effective to add specific information such as “your paragraph has as great topic sentence and several very specific supporting details.”

Token Systems

Reinforcement may take many forms, including social gestures, activities or privileges, or tangible objects.

 Because delivering some of these in the context of classrooms and teaching is not always feasible (e.g., using food reinforcers for individual responses during an academic lesson), token or point systems have been developed to very effectively provide the same reinforcing effect. With token systems, some marker (perhaps a physical token or chip, maybe a checkmark or star on a chart) is used to represent the actual reinforcer that will be delivered later. The token provides immediate feedback to the student that he or she has just displayed the desired behavior. The rules and rewards associated with token or point systems are explained to students in advance so that they know specifically how to earn points and what points may be exchanged for later. Such systems can be tailored easily to the needs and characteristics of individual classrooms and students. Where needs are greatest, for example with younger children or with those who display high rates of negative or disruptive behavior, a more frequent exchange of points for more powerful reinforcers may be necessary. This might involve the opportunity to exchange points as frequently as the end of each class period; perhaps a student earns some tangible reward or minutes of a preferred activity at the end of class if he or she has completed work satisfactorily and exhibited an acceptable level of appropriate behavior. With older students or those whose learning or behavioral difficulties are not as great, the exchange of points may be less frequent. For these students the exchange of points for desired items or preferred activities might occur only at the end of a school day or even at the end of the week.

Differential reinforcement

Although the utility of both reinforcement and extinction for helping students improve their behavior has been well established, it is perhaps the combination of the two that occurs most frequently in classrooms and produces the greatest benefit. Indeed, it would be unusual to observe a classroom situation in which one is used exclusive of the other. The teacher who decides to use extinction by ignoring a student’s off-task comments during a lesson, for example, will surely attend positively to those students who are paying attention and responding appropriately. This strategy, sometimes called praise-and-ignore, applies to individual students as well as to groups. The individual student is praised when he or she is on task, or behaving or responding appropriately, and ignored when behavior is off task. The teacher applying this strategy to a larger group in the classroom likewise looks for students who are on task, complying with requests, or participating appropriately in a lesson or activity, and praises those students for their efforts. At the same time, students who are disruptive or otherwise non-compliant are ignored, at least temporarily. In such cases, it is important for the teacher to provide positive attention as soon as a previously off-task student begins attending or participating appropriately.

Limitations and Criticisms of a Behavioral View

Despite a rich empirical basis, a behavioral view of teaching and learning has been subject to significant criticism. Three of the most common criticisms are that behavioral procedures (a) are akin to bribery or coercion for good behavior; (b) might improve behavior or responding temporarily in the presence of programmed reinforcers, but these effects do not generalize; and (c) undermine students’ intrinsic motivation.

Bribery and Coercion

Concerns about bribery and coercion suggest that students may be coerced into behaving in ways that they might not otherwise choose, and it is indeed possible that behavioral procedures could be used in unethical ways. The notions of coercion and bribery, however, are typically applied to situations in which individuals are induced to commit immoral or unethical acts. The foundations of applied behavior analysis and most textbooks on the topic provide a clear emphasis on the ethical use of such procedures. Ethical use of applied behavior analysis requires that behavioral procedures be used to improve students’ positive behavior and reduce or eliminate negative behaviors in ways that increase students’ independence or enhance their dignity. This includes changing behavior in ways that help students achieve academic and school success, as well as prepare students for work or other postschool environments. A second element of this principle is that parents or guardians, as well as students themselves, must be key participants in establishing behavioral goals.

Failure To Generalize

When teachers or parents use behavioral procedures effectively, the desired effects of an intervention are often seen readily in the context in which the intervention is implemented. But the ultimate goal of any behavioral intervention is to engender lasting change in behavior that occurs at other times, in other places, and in other, different contexts. For example, teachers hope that the behaviors their students learn in their classroom will generalize to other classrooms. In fact, the criticism that behavioral procedures often fail to produce generalized responding has proven valid to some extent. In a landmark paper published in 1977, Stokes and Baer reviewed some 270 behavior intervention studies and found that approximately 120 of these contributed to what they called an emerging “technology of generalization” (p. 350). Unfortunately, at that time the largest number of studies reviewed fell into a category Stokes and Baer called “train and hope” (1977, p. 351). In other words, in most studies researchers did not program for generalization at all.

Researchers have since focused increasingly on ways to actively program for generalization, and a number of the strategies originally described by Stokes and Baer have proven successful in this regard. For example, programming common stimuli introduces elements of the original intervention or intervention setting into other environments to encourage students to display similar behavior in those environments. Introduction to natural maintaining contingencies relies on the idea that there are naturally occurring reinforcers that will help maintain behavior if students are exposed to them. For example, a teacher may teach antisocial students how to initiate positive interactions with other students on the playground by using modeling, direct instruction, and role-playing activities in the classroom. If the teacher then arranges for students to practice initiating positive interactions on the playground, and as a result of practicing these new skills, the antisocial students are invited to join in games or activities by other students, the newly taught behaviors may come to be supported by naturally occurring outcomes.

Extrinsic Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation

A criticism of the traditional behavioral view that was popularized by Alfie Kohn in the 1990s suggested that students’ intrinsic motivation is undermined by the introduction of artificial, extrinsic rewards. Indeed, Kohn and few others have essentially called for an end to the use of praise and other forms of reinforcement (e.g., Kohn, 1993). Other scholars questioned Kohn’s ideas and offered reviews of the behavioral literature, which lent significant support to the idea that rewarding consequences are an essential part of effective classroom and behavior management, particularly for students experiencing significant behavioral challenges (e.g., Cameron & Pierce, 1994). Given the hundreds of studies that have shown positive effects of behavioral procedures on the social and academic behavior of students of all ages and ability levels, it would seem unwise for teachers not to make use of such tools.


The behavioral approach to teaching and learning is based on decades of research documenting the positive effects of consequences on improving students’ academic and social behavior. A number of specific behavioral operations are based on the fundamental idea that behavior is controlled by its consequences. These include positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, extinction, response cost punishment, and punishment involving the application of aversives. Examples of these operations can be seen in classroom applications of such things as teacher praise, token reinforcement systems, and differential reinforcement. Critics of the behavioral view posit that behaviors learned in one setting do not generalize to other times and places and that extrinsic rewards somehow undermine students’ intrinsic motivation. Although generalization continues to be a concern and researchers are increasingly addressing generalization in the context of intervention research, the overwhelming body of literature on basic behavioral procedures supports this approach as a research-based set of teaching and management tools that teachers should be familiar and proficient with if they are to provide students with the best opportunity to experience social and academic success.


  1. Alber, S. R., & Heward, W. L. (1997). Recruit it or lose it! Training students to recruit positive teacher attention. Intervention in School and Clinic, 32, 275-282.
  2. Alberto, P., & Troutman, A. (2006). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  3. Brophy, J. (1981). Teacher praise: A functional analysis. Review of Educational Research, 51, 5-32.
  4. Cameron, J., & Pierce, W. D. (1994). Reinforcement, reward, and intrinsic motivation: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 64, 363-423.
  5. Hall, R. V., Lund, D., & Jackson, D. (1968). Effects of teacher attention on study behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 1-12.
  6. Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  7. Maag, J. W. (2001). Rewarded by punishment: Reflections on the disuse of positive reinforcement in schools. Exceptional Children, 67, 173-186.
  8. O’Leary, K. D., Kaufman, K. F., Kass, R. E., & Drabman, R. S. (1970). The effects of loud and soft reprimands on the behavior of disruptive students. Exceptional Children, 37, 145-155.
  9. Patterson, G. R. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia Publishing Company.
  10. Stokes, T. F., & Baer, D. M. (1977). An implicit technology of generalization. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10, 349-367.
  11. Strain, P. S., Lambert, D. L., Kerr, M. M., Stagg, V., & Lenkner, D. A. (1983). Naturalistic assessment of children’s compliance to teachers’ requests and consequences for compliance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 16, 243-249.
  12. Walker, H. M., Ramsey, E., & Gresham, F. M. (2004). Antisocial behavior in schools: Strategies and best practices (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Zero Tolerance Research Paper
Information Processing Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655