What is Behaviorism and Why is it so Important to Smart Work Ethics?

What is Behaviorism and Why is it so Important to Smart Work Ethics?


Since we have had so many questions about the use of reinforcements in Smart Work Ethics we decided to devote two newsletters to this topic. In today’s newsletter we will focus on giving you a general overview of behaviorism. In the——- newsletter we will cover some specific applications of behaviorism used in the Smart Work Ethics program.


We decided to use a behavioral model in Smart Work Ethics because we believe that learning to have work ethic is more than just learning information. We want our students to change their problem workplace behaviors (ie. tardiness, absenteeism, etc.) to more successful behaviors.


The use of behavioral techniques to change behavior is as old as humanity. In fact, you have probably used behaviorism and did not know it. If you ever said to your child, “If you turn in all your homework on time we will have pizza on Friday” you were using behaviorism. If you ever trained a dog using treats you were using behaviorism. You may have even used behaviorism on yourself when you set up a rewards system to help you lose weight or finish a tough project.


Behaviorism is, in simple terms, the branch of psychology dedicated to the study of behaviors and methods to change them. Behaviorism uses a scientific approach, is present oriented, uses active methods, and advocates the use of multiple approaches.


Contemporary behaviorism had its formal beginnings in the 1950s when psychologists began researching and applying a variety of behavioral principles. By the 1970s behaviorism had emerged as a major force in psychology and made a significant impact on psychiatry, social work and education. The association for Advancement of Behavioral Therapy was started in 1966 and is still in existence today under the name Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (http://www.ABCT.org).


Today behaviorism is used to enhance the functioning and performance of individuals in such diverse areas as: therapy, business and industry, child rearing, ecology and the arts. Specific examples include: improving athletic performance, increasing people’s willingness to take prescribed medication, teaching young children musical instruments, promoting energy conservation, preventing crimes and influencing entire communities to engage in behaviors that lower their risk of heart disease.


Behaviorism is a hopeful model. It holds that behaviors learned in the past can be changed so that those past behaviors have little or no impact on current behaviors. It also holds that our behaviors are developed, maintained and changed through appropriate learning. What this mean in terms of Smart Work Ethics is that even though our students enter the program with a history of problem behaviors they can learn new more appropriate workplace behaviors.
To be effective behavioral methods need to generalize beyond the classroom. It is not enough to learn information. That information must be meaningful or relevant to the student or the student will not use the information. Information is made relevant by involving the student in the change process. Smart Work Ethics students evaluate their own behavior and become responsible for making the changes.


Since we are using a powerful model for change we want to be sure that Smart Work Ethics maintains an ethical approach to our students. We use no punishment or aversion techniques. All participation in the exercises is voluntary. We do not tell our students to stop doing a specific behavior. We give them new options and help them understand the benefits of the new behaviors.


When students have more options and understand how these options can benefit them, we believe that they will choose a strong work ethic.

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