- Written by Brent Duncan, PhD
Dismissed by many educators as archaic and dehumanizing, behaviorism seems anathematic in the post-modern world. However, after generations of Dr. Spock parenting and self-esteem school have directly contributed to high depression rates, low resilience, and falling performance among American youth, popular television shows like The Nanny and The Dog Whisperer are influencing rediscovery of shaping as a tool for increasing learner focus and achievement. In addition to being a useful tool for training animals and children, conditioning is widely applied to modify behavior in clinical and correctional settings, classroom management in schools, recruit training in military, and organizational learning and development practices in business. Emerging applications of conditioning include training individuals suffering from bipolar disorder, autism, and Alzheimer's to be functional without medication. This section will review the modern history and controversies of behaviorism to conclude that, alone as a philosophy, behaviorism may be archaic and dehumanizing, but used as a tool in the right situations can be effective for producing behavior change.