Psychological techniques to increase behavior: reinforcement, modeling, chain and contingency contract

Psychological techniques to increase behavior: reinforcement, modeling, chain and contingency contract

Behavior modification therapies are techniques and knowledge that are based on the principles, strategies and techniques derived from the principles of learning, which are applied in a systematic way to modify the maladaptive behavior of clients (either individually or in pairs, groups or even institutions). The following techniques to increase behavior are used by psychologists to make significant changes in patient behavior.


  • 1 The reinforcement
  • 2 The modeling
  • 3 The chain
  • 4 Contingency Contract

The reinforcement

Surely, reinforcement is one of the most used behavioral techniques: everyone uses it in an intuitive way, but not always in an appropriate way. It is true that it is a very simple technique, and with a correct application it is very powerful: it is used to promote appropriate behaviors, with the use of reinforcers.

A reinforcer is any event that increases the likelihood that a behavior will be repeated in the future..

The difficulty of the technique is to identify a suitable reinforcer and in the procedure to administer it. Often, the problems are a consequence of not being able to say if an event will act as a reinforcer until we use it and observe the effects. Boosters are not universal. Thus, what may be reinforcing for one person may not be for another. Moreover, the same event may vary in value (positive versus negative) and weight (more or less positive or negative) in the same person at different times or situations.

When choosing the reinforcer, it is recommended to consider the following parameters:

  • Age, interests and preferences of the person to whom it will be addressed. For example, a candy was possibly a good reinforcer when Joan was three years old, but now that she is fifteen she surely isn't anymore.
  • The behavior that you want to reinforce. For example, offering the possibility of earning 0.1 points in the final grade to do a fifty-page job would surely not be very effective in promoting the desired behavior (for students to reflect and analyze different problems). On the other hand, if 2 points are given, then it is already more feasible. Thus, the amount of time and effort required to develop the objective behavior should be considered when choosing the reinforcer.

We know that the behaviors that are carried out can be used frequently to reinforce other low frequency behaviors (Premack principle). Although it is not always true that frequent behaviors can be used as reinforcers, they sometimes give clues about which reinforcers should be used.

On the other hand, it is also advisable to consider new reinforcers. The continued use of the same stimulus can cause you to lose your appeal and, therefore, your ability as a reinforcer (satiety). It is also advisable to consider natural enhancers, that is, enhancers that are available without the need to introduce them specifically. In this case, what is there is skilled enough to make them contingent on the emission of the desired behavior. For example, before starting to play you must have made a chip. One way to get an idea of ​​what consequences can be reinforcing is to observe the person and find out what he prefers to do. However, We can also ask the person in order to know what he would like to receive as a prize.

At the beginning of a reinforcement program, you must reinforce all the executions of the behavior (continuous reinforcement), and gradually space it (intermittent reinforcement) until its consolidation. It should be emphasized that the simultaneous use of reinforcers is more effective.

Social attention is a special case of reinforcer, and is often a very important one. For attention should be understood the positive and negative reinforcers administered intentionally or involuntarily, such as comments, looks, gestures, praise, censorship, and any expression that tends to reward or punish behavior. Systematic attention and approval is applied following the technique of differential reinforcement, that is, attending to positive behaviors and ignoring negative ones.


It is about favoring the gradual development of a behavior by repeatedly reinforcing small improvements, or approximations to the final (objective) behavior. Instead of waiting for the moment for a new behavior in its final form, we will reinforce any resemblance to this new behavior. It is used, above all, to facilitate the learning of behaviors that are not yet part of the subject's usual repertoire.

Changing the reinforcement pattern is the essential element of the modeling process. Indeed, stop reinforcing a behavior once you see another one that improves and overcomes it is basic. It's about reinforcing improvement, not perfection.

Wanting to move quickly is one of the problems that one can find in the application of the technique. Progressing in a slower way, even the deterioration of behavior, may indicate that progress is made too quickly. Sometimes, the objective behavior has not been (sub) divided into enough steps. In these cases, the sequence must be reviewed and the behavior divided so that the requirement is smaller. It is convenient to have some patience, since it is often used with people who learn slowly and / or with difficulties. It has been used primarily in people with cognitive deficits and has been successfully applied in personal hygiene behaviors and language acquisition.

The chain

In the chain, the objective is the formation of a behavior from simpler ones that already appear in the repertoire of the individual, by reinforcing their combinations. In other words, it is about achieving a functional unit that is made up of pre-existing behavioral subunits, which add up to a new behavior. Therefore, we must have, at the outset, behaviors that are fragments of the final behavior. In the chain, first of all, the behavior to be achieved must be analyzed, to specify the function and component behaviors. The level of detail of these operations will depend (in addition to the task) on the behavioral repertoires of the subject with which one works. It is essential to know what behavioral fragments the client has. The same (final) behavior can be achieved with different intermediate behaviors. In the chain you can start both in principle and in the end. This technique is used in behaviors that the subject knows but does not know how to do them: for example, in the development of domestic autonomy skills, such as dressing, eating or personal hygiene.

In forward chaining The order of operations is followed from beginning to end. For example, you learn to drive a car slowly synchronizing the different operations that, anyway, that person could do separately. In the backward chain It starts at the last step. For example, in the behavior of putting on the pants, the boy or girl would be helped to put them on except for the last thing to do (for example, zip up); Then, you have to teach him to finish the process. Once you have learned it, then you start in the previous step (for example, button up), and you are taught to finish the behavior from that moment. It is not as usual as the previous one. Now, there is a third way to do it, which involves the complete presentation of the task. In this procedure, the client will execute the steps from the beginning to the end of the chain in each attempt and will continue, repeating the entire chain, until he learns all the steps (the complete chain).

Contingency contract

A behavioral contract (or contingency contract) is an agreement that is formalized in writing, between two or more people, and that specifies the behaviors that must be executed each of the parties and the consequences that will be derived, and also of the breach of the agreement that includes the contract. It implies, therefore, the reciprocal exchange of rewards contingently to the behaviors specified in the contract.

They do not need to be very long, nor complicated, as simpler and understandable better. The really important thing is that it is very clear what consequences will result from compliance or breach of the conditions (behaviors) agreed in the contract. Contracts must be specific, the following information must be included: who (the person who has to do the behavior and the one who gives the consequence), who (the specific behavior and the consequence that is derived), when (will happen, and also the consequence) and the characteristics of both the behavior and the consequence (intensity, duration, topography, people involved, etc.). You have to write them in positive terms, that is, specifying the desired behavior, not what is not wanted. They must have a clear beginning and end. Obviously, they can be renegotiated or exhausted at the end of the contractual period.

Writing and signing the contract is always a way of emphasizing what you are trying to do and, in passing, we ensure that the agreements will not depend on interpretations or the memory of the parties. A good contract should ensure that the participant succeeds in their efforts.. Additional bonuses should be included if the person exceeds the contract minimums; In this way, you will find it advantageous to try to do your best. It must be negotiated, and it should be correct for both parties and also allow renegotiation. In addition, it should fade once new behavior and reinforcement guidelines have been established. One of the objectives should be to reduce dependence on the contract and maintain new behaviors and reinforcements in an informal way in the natural environment.

Related tests
  • Depression test
  • Goldberg depression test
  • Self-knowledge test
  • how do others see you?
  • Sensitivity test (PAS)
  • Character test