Behaviour Modification and Cognitive Processes of Learning

Pillay Sheryl
Amanda Ballen

I will be discussing some important procedures which enable learning. Each and every human being learns any kind of behavior during their life span. There is no human being on earth who does not undergo the process of learning. There are various learning methods through which we obtain beliefs, approaches and skills (Skinner, 1971, cited in Ryckman,2013, p. 361) Here we shall discuss the principles of learning and their uses in daily life. I would like to also demonstrate how behavior modification compares with cognitive processes of learning.

Best services for writing your paper according to Trustpilot

Premium Partner
From $18.00 per page
4,8 / 5
Writers Experience
Recommended Service
From $13.90 per page
4,6 / 5
Writers Experience
From $20.00 per page
4,5 / 5
Writers Experience
* All Partners were chosen among 50+ writing services by our Customer Satisfaction Team


What we mean when we say the word “learning”, we normally mean “thinking using the brain”. These concepts of learning are the central perspective in the Cognitive Learning Theory (CLT). Mental processes can be explained, as they are predisposed by both internal and external factors, which gradually bring about learning.

Cognitive Learning Theory suggests that the different procedures regarding learning can be described by examining the mental processes first. It suggests that with actual cognitive processes, learning is simpler and new material can be placed in the memory for a long time. However, ineffective cognitive processes affect learning complications which can be seen in a person.

Social Cognitive Theory (SLT)

There are three variables in social cognitive theory, which are interconnected with each other, for learning to happen, which consist of:

Personal factors Environmental factors Behavior factors

An individual’s environmental interaction, beliefs, ideas and mental skills are influenced by outside factors such as a caring or uncaring parent, disturbing or healthy environment or a very hot or humid climate. The mental process in a person is affected by his behavior, and environmental interaction, which can also alter the way he thinks. One’s behavior can disturb and change the environment in which he or she lives in.

Basic concepts of social learning are:

Observational Learning Is a form of learning from other people, by means of observing their behavior in an effective way in order to gain knowledge and change behavior.

Reproduction Is the method wherein there is a goal to successfully escalate the repeating of a behavior by means of changing the environment to a safer and more comfortable on , within reachable proximate, and to encourage him to remember the new information and behavior learned and to exercise them.

Self-efficacy Is the way a person uses the newly learnt knowledge or behavior which he has learnt.

Emotional coping is a good coping devices used against demanding environments and negative personal appearances can lead to operational learning, especially in adults

Self – regulatory capability is the capability to regulator the behavior even within a negative environment.

Classical and operant conditioning are two vital perceptions significant to behavioral psychology. While both result in learning, the procedure is quite different. To understand how each of these behavior modification methods can be used, it is also important to understand how classic conditioning and operant conditioning differ from one another.

Classic Conditioning

Was developed by the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov, classic conditioning is the first type of learning wherein an organism responds to an environmental stimulus. Pavlov (1927) observed that in classic conditioning, the stimulus (S) triggers the response (R) of an organism. Within the exposure of the organism to the stimulus, reflex(Hermans, 2006, cited in Weiten, 2014, p. 232).

The unconditioned stimulus (US) is the stimulus which leads to an observable response without training.

The unconditioned response (UR) is the response brought about by the unconditioned stimulus. It is an automatic and normal behavior.

The conditioned stimulus (CR) is a stimulus that is original and has no meaning to the subject. Through learning it is paired with the unconditioned stimulus (US) and brings about the conditioned response.

The conditioned response (CR) is the behavior caused by the condition stimulus in response to the (CS). It is usually anticipation of the (US).

General Observation

My brother was in matric and my little sister was two years old when I observed my brother’s behavior. He would often get very frustrated with my little sister when he tried to study (US) in order for him to study he use to give her a chocolate (UR) and she would smile and leave him to study. The chocolate is a positive reinforcement. Now six months later he has completed his matric and when she goes into his room she expects chocolate (CR). Now that my brother do not give her chocolate, when she goes into his room she begins to cry, and mom would get angry at my brother for making her cry. Mom do not realize that my brother has created a (CR) in my little sister behavior, since mom does not allow her to eat chocolate.

Operant Conditioning known as Instrumental Conditioning:

Was established by B.F.Skinner . However Skinner was also greatly influenced by the works of Ivan Pavlov on the conditioning reflux. (Skinner, 1970, cited in Ryckman, 2013, p. 360). Operant conditioning tries to contradict the belief that internal thoughts and mere inspirations which brings about learning in a behavior. Skinner thought that only exterior causes of behavior must be considered (Skinner, 1953, p. 65)) The term “operant” was used by Skinner in order to give us a good suggestion of his theory and how he used it: (Skinner, 1953, cited in Ryckman, 2013, p. 365).


Is a procedure of increasing the frequency rate of a behavior by means of awarding a stimulus soon after the demonstration of the behavior. The event that strengthens the probability of the behavior to be recurring is called a reinforcer. According to Skinner, reinforcement can take two forms, which are called positive and negative reinforcement (Skinner, 1953, cited in Ryckman, 2013, p. 367).

Positive Reinforcement: When my mom wanted me to do the dishes, she would say to me “if you do the dishes for me, for the week than I will take you out shopping on Saturday”. Naturally we would spend the day shopping and she would spoil me, but eventually without her asking me to do the dishes for her. I realized that she was tired after work and the least I could do was help her with the dishes.

Negative reinforcement occurs when a reply is reinforced because it is followed by the elimination of an unfriendly stimulus. Example cleaning the house to get rid of the mess or wearing a safety belt whist driving to prevent an annoying sound (Skinner, 1953, cited in Ryckman, 2013, p. 367).

Negative Reinforcement:

I hated the fact that I needed to drive with my safety belt on, and I found that the annoying noise of the seatbelt would not stop until I buckled up which is an aversive stimulus since it encourage me to fasten my seat belt. Until I fasten the seatbelt, the annoying sound persisted I could not get rid of the aversive stimuli. Now days when I get into the car, the first thing I do is put my safety belt on.

In both positive and negative reinforcement, behavior is increased, however negative reinforcement plays a key role in both escaping learning and avoidance learning (Skinner, 1953, cited in Ryckman, 2013, p. 367).

In escape learning, a being obtain a response that decrease or ends some aversive stimulation example: my little sister wearing her shoes before going outside to play, this leads to:

Avoidance learning in which an entity obtains a response that stops some aversive stimulation from happening example putting on shoes before you get an ammonia.

Avoidance learning is a good way to see how classical conditioning and operant conditioning work together to regulate behavior. An example, shoes my sister needs to put on before she goes outside and play might become a classical conditioning (CS) that elicits a fear of wearing shoes in her. However the response of putting on her shoes is an operant behavior. This response is strengthened through negative reinforcement, because it reduces the person’s fear of getting sick. Thus in avoidance learning a fear response is acquired through classical conditioning and an avoidance response is maintained by operant conditioning.

Punishment Is a process whereby a stimulus is used after the presentation of behavior and cause the decline in the possibility of the behavior to reoccur. In contrast to reinforcement there are also consequences that decrease a being’s leaning to make a specific response.

Positive punishment: Is the accumulation of something which affects the decrease in repeating the behavior that was displayed? Negative punishment, also known as punishment by removal, occurs when a favorable event or outcome is removed after a behavior occurs (Skinner, 1953, cited inRyckman, 2013, p. 368).

When I was younger my sister and I slept in the same room and we often fought with each other about who slept on the top of the double bunk. Until my father got angry one day and sent us both to the naughty corner for two whole hours, and whilst sitting alone it decreased our behavior and we never fought again with each other about sleeping arrangements.

Negative Punishment: Decreases the behavior from occurring, it is removing pleasant stimulus when someone is not doing the appropriate behavior.

Eating food was one of my difficulties, since I rather looked forward to the deserts during super time, so I use to waste my food. Dad took away my spending and said I needed to learn to appreciate and feel what poor kids are going through. He even took me to the orphanage and I felt so bad, now I know not to waste food since there are so many kids out there who do not have food. My view on wasting food has changed.


Is based on the work of Albert Bandura (1977). Bandura and his associates were able to exhibit through a variation of experimentations that the request of concerns was not necessary for learning to take place. Instead learning could happen through the simple procedure of observing someone else’s actions or behavior. This effort provided the basis for Bandura’s future work in social cognition ( Ohman & Mineka, 2001, cited in Weiten, 2014, p. 252).

Bandura expressed his findings in a four step design which includes a cognitive and an operant view of learning.

Attention- to learn observation, you must pay attention to another person’s behavior and its environment.

Retention- you may not have times to observe response for a long time. Hence the individual remembers what was noticed and must store a mental image of what he has witnessed in his memory.

Reproduction- the action that the individual produces that is a replica of what was noticed.

Motivation – your motivation depends on whether you encounter the situation in which you believe that the response is likely to pay off for you (Weiten, 2013, p. 252).

My eldest brother (fifteen years old) use to skip school and smoke cigarettes. Whilst my younger brother who was (twelve years old) at the time observed what he was doing. When my younger brother turned (fourteen) he stated smoking cigarettes too. Thereafter he started modelling my eldest brother’s behavior and he too started skipping school. Now both of them are addicted to smoking.

I often hear both my brother’s saying that smoking is not good, yet they keep smoking. And when their friends come over, they smoke even worst.

I cannot fully understand the need for their smoking. However I do know that it is not good for their health, it clogs their lungs and some people also dies of lung cancer, besides I hate the bad odor in there breathe. My eldest brother was a good athlete at college but these days he complains that he cannot run like he used to, because he suffers of short breath and he coughs a lot to. I constantly tell him to quit smoking and he would stop for a day or two, and he would become very frustrated and annoying to be around. Eventually I would say to him “you know, you should rather smoke because you are so annoying, your attitude really stinks” And he would say you know I cannot function without cigarettes it feels like my nerves are finished, I cannot even concentrate, I am trying to leave this addiction but it is not easy.

Behavior Modification

Is a therapeutic technique created by Skinner, a psychologist who is the “Father of Behaviorism.” Skinner established a theory of operant conditioning, whereby he states that all behavior is ruled by reinforcing and punishing stimuli. Behavior modification practices a planned approach that rewards wanted behavior and “punishes” unwanted behavior. This technique is used in therapy and is used in psychological settings. Behavior modification is now known as Applied behavior analysis (ABA) which is more logical (Kransner, 1970, cited in Ryckman, 2013, p. 375).

How Behavior Modification is applied:

Psychologists use behavior modification to treat disorders such as attention deficit disorder, autism etc. The basics of behavior modification are used to increase the desired behaviors in any specific person, regardless of functional level (Tanaka- Matsumi et al., 2002 cited in Corey2014, p. 254). For example, a person wants to quit smoking cigarettes; he may use behavioral methods to help attain those goals.

Another example is, an individual who sees a shark and swims for his life, and he is not swimming fast because he is “scared.” Instead, he is swimming fast because he saw what happened to other’s who did not swim and who was eaten by the shark. The impulse to swim fast is a result of those that swam and did not live. In addition, the particular feeling of being “scared” is measured as a flight reflex, not a feeling. The heart races and adrenaline rises as the nervous system responds to the situation at hand. Hence, anything a person does can be directed to behavior modification.

Reinforcement and Punishment

The idea of reinforcement and punishment is often used in different ways, in behavior modification than in everyday linguistic. Whatever increases a behavior is a reflected reinforcement and whatever decreases the behavior is punishment. The complex part is that both reinforcement and punishment can have either a positive or negative outcome. Positive refers to whatever is added to the situation and negative is whatever is taken away from the situation (Watson & Tharp, 1997, cited in Weiten, 2014, p. 260).

Positive Reinforcement: When I was in school my mom would give me a huge hug and when I got really good marks she would reward me with presents for passing.

Negative Reinforcement:

My brother often did not do well at school, and he did not get any praises from my parents, instead my parents were disappointment and would often ground him. This is a negative reinforcement, because although he was not an academic student I feel my parents would still praise him and motivated him in whatever field he is good at.

Punishment: Often my brother had to do the gardening for the duration of the school term in order for his grades to go up. This was dad’s way of punishing him positively. Mom use to take away his play station and his bicycle until his grades picked up. This was mom’s way of punishing him negatively (Weiten, 2014, p. 260).

Behavior Modification in Everyday Life: According to Lazaras (1989) behavior modification may seem complicated, but in fact it is actually quite simple. If an individual is reinforced every single time he or she does something good, sooner or later the reinforcement will lose its power. When using this technique with general people, one should reinforce the desired outcome, with a consistency. Then as they start to respond, change your schedule of reinforcement to every third time, and they will do what you want. After a while, change it again to every fifth time until they do it automatically (Lazaras 1989 cited in Corey, 2014).

Mom wanted dad to open the car door for her. When they went out shopping she carried all the bags and when she got to the car, dad noticed that her hands were filled and he opened the door for her. Once he opened the door, she looked at him in the eye and told him what an amazing person he is. After several times of her encouraging him to open the door, eventually he started opening the car door for her regularly. And once she noticed that he was opening the door for her she did not compliment him every time. However once in a while she would complement him.

Conclusion Both cognitive processes and behavior modification has been used with good outcomes to help people with a wide variety of problems. These approaches makes use of tangible, involvements, because of the way problems are recognized .The major methods are logical and straightforward.


Corey, G. (2014). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy (SA ed.). USA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning, Inc.

Ryckman,R. M. (2013). Theories of Personality (10th, ed.). USA: International Edition, Cengage Learning.

Corey, G. (1986).Theory and practice of group counselling and psychotherapy(3rd ed.). Monterey, CA Brooks/Cole.

Weiten, W. (2014). Psychology Themes and Variations (SA. Ed.). Las Vegas, USA: Cengage Learning.

You Might Also Like

I'm Alejandro!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out