Behaviour Modification

Bullying can be rife in certain establishments, much to the detriment of those who attend and those who monitor it. Have you ever wondered how bullies who act in aggressive and destructive ways can have their behaviour changed? Behaviour modification theory seeks to solve this question, offering ways to improve interpersonal relations between students and school-aged children.

Behaviour Modification Behaviour Modification

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Table of contents
    • We are going to explore behaviour modification in relation to bullying behaviours.
    • First, we will discuss behaviour modification theory to understand what we mean by behaviour modification fully.
    • We will also analyse the ethical issues in behaviour modification.
    • Then will explore the various behaviour modification techniques, such as the CAPSLE behaviour modification programme and the Olweus Bullying prevention programme.
    • Then, we will highlight the various behaviour modification examples, including cognition and behaviour modification techniques.

    Behaviour Modification, boy holding another boy against a wall while a girl films it on her phone, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Behaviour modification techniques can help in cases of bullying.

    Behaviour Modification Theory

    Behaviour modification theory for bullying uses various behaviour modification techniques to tackle undesirable actions enacted by bullies on their victims. It concerns the ability to modify behaviour that society, and in this case, institutions (schools in most instances) deem harmful.

    Behaviour modification can be used in several different ways, ranging from formal interventions to complex systemic programmes.

    Typically, behaviour modification utilises theories revolving around operant conditioning (the behaviourist approach) by encouraging positive behaviours through positive reinforcement and discouraging negative behaviours through punishment.

    Behaviour Modification Techniques

    Various techniques have been employed to tackle bullying behaviours with different success rates. We can determine each technique's effectiveness by carefully considering their tactics and evaluating the results they achieve in the institutions they have been in.

    Behaviour Modification Examples

    Behaviour modification examples for bullying that have gained traction in school systems include:

    1. CAPSLE (Creating A Peaceful School Learning Environment)
    2. Olweus bullying prevention programme
    3. Social Skills Training

    Ethical Issues in Behaviour Modification

    As with any tactic used to alter behaviour, psychologists and institutions must consider the ethical issues in behaviour modification: issues with consent and knowledge of the techniques being used. Parents need to be consulted and need to fully understand that their children will be affected by the programmes being used, as ultimately, the behaviour modification techniques are manipulating a child's behaviour and cognition.

    As well as this, the school needs to consider the goals of the techniques, how this will affect the social situations of the children involved, the classroom dynamics, and if the techniques are being implemented correctly to reduce potential harm to the children (considering how sensitive the topic is).

    CAPSLE Behavior Modification Programme

    CAPSLE (Creating A Peaceful School Learning Environment) is a method that aims to more comprehensively understand and tackle bullying and aggressive behaviour in schools by focusing on the wider student body. CAPSLE concentrates not only on the bully and the victim of the bullying but also on bystanders and the power dynamics at play that can allow bullying to take root and become a big problem.

    CAPSLE aims to decrease rates of aggression and make the classroom a more productive space for learning.

    A critical aspect of CAPSLE is mentalising, which is the ability to understand the current mindset of others.

    Successful mentalising could result in someone developing the ability to imagine the mental state of others accurately, or at least in a way that creates good outcomes.

    In terms of bullying, mentalising could create the potential for a bully to understand the pain they are causing others. In contrast, a victim of bullying could try to understand what drives their aggression and perhaps even understand how to avoid or de-escalate a confrontation with a bully in the future.

    Solutions like this are more favourable than simple punishment because they encourage actual understanding. Real-world use of CAPSLE has found decent success.

    Twemlow et al. (2001) investigated CAPSLE use in two schools over a four-year period. They found that when CAPSLE was used, there was a decrease in disciplinary referrals, including a reduction in physical violence by over 50%.

    There was even an increase in 'helpful bystanding', which may serve to stop or deescalate bullying as it happens.

    However, some suggest that one anti-bullying program alone cannot improve everyone's experience with bullying and that CAPSLE's approach is too general to tackle bullying completely. Let's take a look at some evaluations.

    Evaluation of CAPSLE

    Let's discuss using CAPSLE, what it does right and how it could be improved. CAPSLE's use has been proven to result in lower levels of aggression among schoolchildren. The scheme is relatively cheap and uses resources already present in the institutions. The effects of CAPSLE appear to be persistent.

    Fonagy et al. (2009) supported the use of CAPSLE. They found that in their 1,345 third to fifth-grade children participants, CAPSLE decreased off-task and disruptive classroom behaviours. Overall, it suggested that teacher-implemented school-wide interventions reduce aggression and aid classroom behaviours.

    However, CAPSLE has not been able to account for differences in income and gender as well as it could. Boys and students of lower household incomes continued to display the most aggression and the least amount of helpful bystanding.

    Given the continuing gender and income-based discrepancies schools continue to see when CAPSLE is used, it could be that its approach is simply too general to completely solve the problem of bullying and aggression in schools.

    Behaviour Modification, boy in green shirt with classmates doing schoolwork, StudySmarterFig. 2 - CAPSLE is a behaviour modification programme.

    Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme

    The Olweus bullying prevention programme is a technique that aims to combat bullying by involving not only the school but the parents and broader community of school-aged children (5–15 years old). While there is no specific focus on students as a whole, students who are known to bully or be bullied are given special focus in the form of one-on-one meetings with trained staff.

    But how does Olweus actually function? Olweus aims to be a very comprehensive approach to tackling bullying, so it tries to address the issue on four fronts.

    Level of Olweus Bullying Prevention ProgrammeDescription
    Individual level Here students are supervised regularly, meetings are held with students and parents of children affected by bullying, and a focus is put on staff intervention and long-term intervention for individuals when bullying occurs.
    Classroom level Teachers hold meetings with students and parents, and rules against bullying are established and kept.
    School level Committees are formed to focus on the prevention of bullying and decide how it should be put in place and are then trained, with changes made to the supervisory system of the school. Olweus' bullying questionnaire is distributed to staff and students, and meetings are held with staff to decide on the best way to approach the situation.When all is decided, the school then introduces a set of new anti-bullying rules and holds an event to commence the programme's launch within the school. Parents may also be invited to help with this process and learn how they can support the school and their children against bullying.
    Community level Members of the wider community are invited onto the anti-bullying committee. They discuss and decide how to promote anti-bullying messages in the community at large.

    The violence prevention works scheme found that the use of this programme resulted in a reduction in bullying by up to 50%, along with other associated issues such as general social problems and anti-social behaviour. However, it has also been suggested that the programme's effectiveness can differ based on the individuals that make up the student body, so more work may need to be done to ensure that Olweus and approaches like it can suit everyone their needs.

    Evaluation of Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme

    Olweus certainly looks like a helpful, in-depth approach to solving the problem of bullying in our schools, but how could it be improved? Let's look at some evaluation points. Olweus has been found to reduce bullying behaviour by up to 50%.

    Olweus has also helped decrease the prevalence of other issues, such as anti-social behaviour and social problems in school. In schools where Olweus was used, students reported better relationships and mental health.

    The effects of Olweus do not always appear to persist. When followed-up, schools observed using Olweus long-term differed very little from control schools in one analysis. At the same time, another study found that its effects were persistent, which suggests that Olweus isn't as reliable as it could be.

    There is little data on the application of Olweus to ethnically and culturally diverse areas. Still, given its mixed results, an approach that is too general and does not account for differences such as ethnic background, gender balance, sexuality etc., could be the issue.

    Social Skills Training

    Social skills training is a form of behaviour modification that seeks to solve social issues in people's lives by teaching them helpful social skills, pro-social behaviour and how to recognise and avoid behaviour and ideation that could be considered harmful to themselves or those around them.

    Social skills training (SST) that attempts to tackle bullying consists of interventions with schoolchildren through a mix of social learning and cognitive behavioural training.

    This involves a series of scripted activities held over several intervention sessions that focused on helping children to develop foundational social skills, better prosocial behaviour and deal with negativity in their environment from others, i.e., other schoolchildren.

    These activities include roleplay scenarios, role/behaviour reversal and direct instruction from staff.

    Is SST an Effective Way to Combat Bullying?

    Attempts to use SST to tackle bullying have found little success. While the skills SST teaches are arguably important, especially to younger students or those who struggle socially, studies into it have only been able to find a very slight improvement in bullying behaviour among children who received SST, if there were able to find any at all.

    SST could be an important component of a larger, more systemic anti-bullying approach in schools, but it alone does not seem enough to fix the issue.

    Evaluation of SST as a Form of Behaviour Modification

    Now that we've explored SST and what it entails, let's think about what it does well and how it could be better. SST has been shown to have a small positive effect on bullying among children who received it (Koiv, 2012). SST attempts to teach several useful skills and ideas and emphasises introspection and mentalisation.

    SST is largely ineffective at solving the problem of bullying. While SST's teachings are positive, they do not address the root causes of bullying or the conditions that lead to it. Because SST is highly scripted and preplanned, there is little room for individual differences in students to be addressed.

    SST focuses on the individual and the interpersonal, which fails to address the complexity of bullying and the systemic changes that need to be implemented to rid schools of bullying.

    Cognition and Behaviour Modification

    Cognitive behavioural modification often involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), as it focuses on modifying behaviour at a cognitive level. CBT modifies behaviour by identifying maladaptive thoughts and dysfunctional behaviour and determining efficient ways to tackle these maladaptive thoughts.

    If bullying behaviour results from personal issues at home, manifesting as a result of mental health issues, CBT may be an effective cognition and behaviour modification strategy.

    CBT is often used in conditions such as:


    Behaviour Modification - Key takeaways

    • CAPSLE (Creating A Peaceful School Learning Environment) is a method that aims to more comprehensively understand and tackle bullying and aggressive behaviour in schools by focusing on the wider student body and mentalising.
    • CAPSLE has been successful in the long term, but it isn't very effective in some cases, which could be because of its general approach.
    • The Olweus bullying prevention programme is a technique that aims to combat bullying by involving not only the school but the parents and broader community of school-aged children.
    • Social Skills Training (SST) teaches social skills, prosocial behaviour and how to identify and handle negativity from within and from others.
    • Cognitive behavioural therapy can be used to modify maladaptive and dysfunctional behaviour.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Behaviour Modification

    What is the modification of Behaviour?

    Behaviour modification is when techniques and approaches are used to modify maladaptive or harmful behaviours.

    What is cognitive behavior modification?

    Cognitive behaviour modification focuses on identifying and addressing negative self-talk.

    What is behavior modification in psychology ?

    In psychology, behaviour modification is when techniques and approaches are used to modify behaviour, which can include bullying behaviours. 

    What are behavior modification examples?

    Examples of behaviour modification include the CAPSLE anti-bullying programme, the Olweus bullying prevention programme and Social Skills Training. 

    What are the four means of modifying behavior?

    The four means of modifying behaviour are positive punishment, negative punishment, positive reinforcement, and negative reinforcement

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