Case One: The Case of Bobby
Bobby’s case could be approached with any of the four categories of operant conditioning. Positive reinforcement could be implemented using candy as a reward stimulus in response to the desired cleaning behavior, but this approach would take time and could result in the child expecting candy or some other treat for previously automatic positive behaviors. Negative reinforcement would require the introduction of an unwanted situation, like being grounded, for the child that will only be alleviated after performing of the desired behavior.
The use of punishment would require viewing the operant behavior as refusing to clean his room. Punishment could be used to decrease behavior through the introduction of an unwanted stimulus (like grounding) when Bobby fails to clean their room, while omission (negative punishment) would be implemented through the removal of some wanted stimuli (again grounding would work as it is also usually involves removing access to entertainment) in response to the unwanted actions.Punishment in any form is rarely a desired method, and is usually only used as a last resort (if at all) in the successful management of child behaviors (MacKenzie et al., 2012). Punishment can teach negative behavior as an unintended side effect if the child begins to mimic the technique in social interactions. The introduction of unwanted stimuli and/or removal of desired variables can result in resentment toward parents and authority figures, once again introducing the potential for social impairment and unhealthy psychological development.
Some form of reinforcement is undoubtedly the solution here, but negative reinforcement requires uncomfortable situations to begin with, and can inadvertently be interpreted as punishment, risking similar outcomes. Positive reinforcement should be used with Bobby, and will require patience from the parents as the process takes a natural progression.
Case Two: The Case of Jackie
Jackie would most likely benefit from classical conditioning techniques due to the nature of the phobia. It appears that the woman has been conditioned to respond with fear to the sight of dogs due to her encounter, as the stimulus has become associated with dread due to the salient experience of being attacked as a child, and its role as an unconditioned influencer. Luckily for Jackie, there are a variety of treatments available that could have an application in her case.
Flooding (a form of exposure treatment) is a process that involves extinguishing the fear response by presenting Jackie with the conditioned stimuli (dogs) repeatedly and with increasing intensity/time of duration. This technique acts by extinguishing the link between unconditioned and conditioned stimuli that supports the conditioned response. Using an exposure based system is risky due to the variable abilities of subjects to “handle” the experience, and it should not be recommended for Jackie.
Counter-conditioning is another approach that uses the fear-conditioned stimulus, but in combination with soothing stimuli to relax the subject and eventually extinguish the fear response through the formation of opposing associations. This technique only presents a fraction of the initial risk associated with exposure therapies, and proceeds in a more controlled and less intimidating progression. The use of a contrary element also presents the opportunity to teach general relaxation and good health techniques, or more imaginative relaxing methods while utilizing the phobia-countering effects of the behavioral modification tool.
A form of counter-conditioning called systematic desensitization (Davis, May, and Whiting, 2011) would be appropriate in Jackie’s case, due to her young age at the time of the association being formed and the potential lasting trauma of the attack. The relationship is likely to be strong, and so elimination of the fear response needs to be tenderly achieved in order to avoid worsening her condition.
Case Three: The Case of Emma
Emma’s case is difficult because of the severity of the conditioned response and the presence of many potential variables to be addressed. Tantrums are common but remain to be a nightmare to most parents due to their persistent and alarming nature. Many approaches and perspectives exist among parents and theorists, and there remains to be contention about the best way to eliminate the behavior.
An immediate clue about the technique to recommend for Emma’s parents lies in the fact that they seek to eliminate a behavior. Accordingly, a form of operant conditioning is the most likely to achieve the desired result. The limitations and risks of the various types of operant conditioning were discussed above, with punishments proving to be the most problematic in most situations. However, Emma’s parents have not been idle in this effort and have already attempted strategies that equate to an uncontrolled application of positive reinforcement (as well as punishments) without any sign of success.
The key to resolving this issue is in the identification of the stimulus that is acting to reinforce the tantrums. Emma is being taught that if she behaves this way, she will eventually get picked up and attended to by her parents, who will then clean up the mess anyway. The proper approach to this case is for the parents to ignore the child during the extent of all tantrums and to refuse to clean up for her (Indication, 2010). This is not an easy task, as ignoring a child that appears to be in distress is a parental instinct, but sticking to this course will provided the greatest opportunity for elimination of the unwanted behavior.
Davis, T. E., May, A., & Whiting, S. E. (2011). Evidence-based treatment of anxiety and phobia in children and adolescents: Current status and effects on the emotional response. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(4), 592-602.
Indication, G. (2010). Day Correction of Pediatric Bedtime Problems. Behavioral Treatments for Sleep Disorders: A Comprehensive Primer of Behavioral Sleep Medicine Interventions, 311.
MacKenzie, M. J., Nicklas, E., Waldfogel, J., & Brooks‐Gunn, J. (2012). Corporal Punishment and Child Behavioural and Cognitive Outcomes through 5 Years of Age: Evidence from a Contemporary Urban Birth Cohort Study. Infant and Child Development.