7. Contractual Agreements

The technique of using contractual agreements was studied by Sulzer (1962) and by Pratt and Tooley (1964, 1966, Note 4).  A therapeutic contractual agreement involves the specification of behaviors to be modified and the dispensation of predetermined reinforcers, or lack thereof, contingent on the performance of the individual.  The individual then agrees to abide by this contract for a specified period of time. According to Kanfer and Phillips (1970), “the establishment of a contract may provide specific targets that the patient can aim for, and it clearly specifies the means and consequences of fulfilling the contract” (p. 437).  Furthermore, contractual agreements aid the individual in practicing self-controlling behaviors in his daily activities (Bandura, 1969).

Examples of the application of this technique include the report by Tooley and Pratt (1967) in modifying smoking behavior, and that of Ferster, Nurnberger, and Levitt (1962) in modifying obesity.  In both studies, the participants agreed to restrict increasingly the times and places in which they performed the undesired behavior.

Harris and Bruner (1971) studied a technique of contractual agreement in which the client would deposit substantial cash valuables with the therapist, who would return them to the client contingent upon the client’s reaching predetermined levels of satisfactory performance.  In the Harris and Bruner study (1971), for example, this technique produced significant weight changes as compared with control groups given no treatment, or nonspecific forms of treatment.  However, the differences obtained at the end of the intervention were not maintained by the follow-up 10 months later.  Other examples of the use of this technique include: studies on the modification of classroom behavior (Homme et al., 1970); delinquent behavior (Stuart, 1971; Stuart & Lott, 1972); and marital interaction (Knox, 1973, 1975).


© 1976 Angel Enrique Pacheco, Ph.D., C.Psych.  All Rights Reserved.



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