All behaviors have consequences. Since we have gained a level of sophistication, an operational definition of that sentence is more fitting. For every stimulus, there is a distinct response. If I flip the light switch, the stimulus, the room will be filled with light, a response. If I continue to eat donuts, while trying to write this portion of my blog, I will gain even more weight and not fit into any of my new spring collection of pants that I just bought. You may have noticed that some responses are immediate and overt, while others are more latent and covert. Irrespective of the immediacy or the latency between the stimulus and the response, the direct association continues to exist. This forms the basis of behavior management. We manage our behavior because of the consequences we experience. It makes sense, therefore, that by altering the consequences, we can change the initial behavior. Again, for our level of sophistication, we can be conditioned by the responses to our stimuli. A synopsis of classical or operant conditioning delineated by B.F. Skinner states that, since we know that a stimulus leads to a response, we can manipulate the response and affect the stimulus. Dr. Skinner could “teach” any living creature to behave in any manner he wished, as long as the desired behavior was already in the repertoire of the creature. Using a “Skinner Box,” Dr. Skinner was able to shape the behaviors of pigeons, rats and monkey.
Moreover, and much to the horror and abhorrence of Mrs. Skinner, even his own children’s behaviors could be shaped. However, unless the child was never removed from the box, many variable factors confounded any practical conditioning he could achieve.
Despite these obvious limitations, his tenets of operant conditioning are instrumental in our attempts to modify the behavior of children and adolescents for whom the association between their behaviors and its consequences are either weak or nonexistent.