Students sometimes find the concept of target behavior a little difficult. One of the main problems is that in day to day life we tend to speak generally of behavior, while in behavior modification we have to speak about specific behaviors. Keep in mind that the language of behavior is very precise. So we have to be precise when we are talking about behaviors as well.
We might say "eat your vegetables," and we all know what that means because the behavior is generally agreed on. You can probably get a good vision in your head about a kid sitting at a table with the last thing left on the plate being some string beans or spinach eating one bite at a time.
Let's suppose that I hate mushrooms and you like them. And you think if I ate them every day for a month that I would like them too. You feel so strongly about this that you are willing to pay me $100 if I eat mushrooms everyday for a month (face it you like to be right and it is worth $100 to prove your point).
This is a lot of money for you and you want to make sure that I actually eat the mushrooms every day so you have me video each time I eat mushrooms.
At the end of the month you come to my dorm fully expecting me to admit that I was wrong and to admit that mushrooms actually taste good. But to your surprise I look you straight in the eye and say they still taste bad. Not only are you mad that you are out of $100, you hate to be wrong and really can't let this be. You demand to see the video to prove that mushrooms were eaten each day.
Upon watching the video, you see that I technically ate mushrooms every day so technically I deserve the money. I really wanted to win the money (and I like to be right too), so what I did was to take a very small piece of a dirty old mushroom put it in my mouth and swallow it real quick without chewing. I only 'ate' that one small piece each time.
Burned and chagrinned, you still have a strong desire to be right so you again offer to pay me $100 to eat mushrooms every day for a month. But fortunately you just read a book on behavior modification and you know how to define a target behavior and you are not going to let me get off on a technicality this time. You are going to tell me exactly what I have to do in order to get paid the $100.
You now tell me that I have to eat one medium sized fresh portabella mushroom every day by washing it, sautéing it in butter, taking bite sized pieces and chewing them at least 20 times before swallowing. No washing down with liquids until I finish the entire mushroom. And you state - 'If you throw up the bet is off.' And you have to keep the video on for at least 30 minutes so I know you ate the whole thing and that you kept it down for awhile. You really don't trust me at all!
This is a very precise detailed description of what I have to do in order to win the $100 - a good target behavior, but will it work? Can I cheat on a technicality and get the $100 again. Perhaps, but it would be more difficult this time because there is a pretty specific target behavior governing what I do.
Target behaviors are used so there is agreement on the exact behavior that is going to be reinforced or punished. The more specific they are, the less likely there will be disagreement on whether the behavior happened or not.
There is no magic way to define a target behavior. One way to do it is to ask yourself, "what would that behavior look like if I saw it?" And if you saw it too would we both agree that it was the behavior we were interested in? What does it look like to eat veggies? What does it look like to wash dishes? What does it look like to do your home work? What does a good blog post look like? What does it look like to eat better? What does it look like to save money?
Describe the behavior so you get the specific / exact desired behavior each and every time. And when the behavior is emitted anyone that knows what the target behavior is will agree that it occurred.