Shaping is typically considered to be a behavioral technique that is useful for external behaviors but studies have shown that shaping can be effective for internal behaviors as well. One such study conducted in 1973 demonstrated that shaping can be used to regulate heart rate. In this study the participant wore a heart rate monitor that was also connected to a television watched by the participant. The heart rate monitor was connected to the video part of the television, and video was only shown when the participant’s heart rate decreased from its previous level by a few beats. When the participant’s heart rate was consistent at the new level for three sessions the video portion of the television became available as a reward for the participant to promote further decrease in heart rate. The results for the participant were also noticed by people in the participant’s environment who reported that the participant seemed calmer and that his requests for medication reduced.
The main idea behind this type of intervention is the ability for the participant to have visual access to his or her internal functions, which was provided by biofeedback machines. The ability to monitor internal processes, such as heart rate, allows people the ability to develop mastery over these internal processes. Individuals learn through practice and reinforcement various techniques to control these processes. For example, in the heart monitor scenario the participant learned to reduce his heart rate in order to watch television, which means the client developed an understanding of what worked for him to reduce his heart rate, and thus his anxiety. There are key elements that the behavior modifiers provided in this scenario: taught the participant relaxation techniques; practiced the techniques; and then applied the techniques in an actual scenario for the participant to use in situations that the participant’s heart rate was actually elevated.
Martin, G. & Pear, J. (2011). Behavior modification: What it is and how to do it (9th Ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.