What Are the Benefits of Behavioral Theories?

Behavioral theories attempt to understand and change human behaviors. Some theories, like those promoted by Sigmund Freud, link behaviors to the unconscious, such as repressed memories of trauma. These theories resolve undesirable behaviors by addressing their mental source. Other theories, such as those promoted by B.F. Skinner, view behavior as a set of positive or negative responses that can be changed through reinforcement. While behavior theories may differ in their take on how human behavior arises, the benefits of these theories include changed behavior, improved self-belief and greater self-confidence.

Change Behaviors

Behavioral theories can be used to motivate change in the short- and long-term. The Good Behavior Game (Reference 3) is a method used to reinforce positive behaviors in the classroom. Students work individually and in teams to earn rewards such as special privileges or prizes at the end of the day or week. The opportunity to win is lost if defined undesirable behaviors occur more than a pre-set limit, with each instance tracked on a blackboard or flip chart. For example, each instance of talking out of turn might be one undesirable behavior that counts against the team. Students are motivated toward those behaviors that result in short-term reward.

Behavioral theories that use positive reinforcement have also demonstrated long-term positive consequences. First and second graders who took part in the Good Behavior Game showed less tobacco, alcohol and drug dependency and anti-social behavior by the time they reached young adulthood, according to a study published in June 2008 in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence (Reference 4).

Increase Self Belief

With the publication of “Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory” in 1986, Albert Bandura documented the theory that cognition in conjunction with environmental influences can drive an individual’s behavior and lead to increased self-efficacy or self-belief 4. Bandura’s theories emphasize an individual’s ability to drive her own development and take action, while recognizing that environmental conditions influence how individuals change. The recognition that an individual has the power to change her behaviors with subsequent changes in outcome builds self-belief, which drives further change.

Build Confidence

Cognitive behavioral theory attempts to adjust behaviors by helping people think differently and more positively about the challenges they face, and application of cognitive behavioral theory in a therapy setting can build confidence. Patients who apply cognitive behavioral therapy in an attempt to better manage their pain show improved confidence in their ability to engage in life activities, according to the American Psychological Association. Patients are taught to identify negative thoughts about pain and how to reduce it through awareness and relaxation techniques. Incremental training in daily activities helps build skills to cope with pain and also builds confidence that the individual can engage in and enjoy a range of activities.