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Overcorrection is a procedure developed by Richard Foxx and Nathan Azrin for the treatment

of aggressive, disruptive, and self-stimulatory behavior exhibited by children and adults with
mental retardation and autism. Since its development in the early 1970s, overcorrection has
been used effectively for numerous problem behaviors exhibited by children with and without
disabilities and for a variety of problem behaviors exhibited by adults with disabilities. In the
overcorrection procedure, the caregiver (parent, teacher, staff person) requires the child to
engage in an effortful activity for a specified period of time (e.g., 520 minutes) contingent on
the occurrence of the problem behavior. In most cases, the caregiver uses physical guidance to
get the child to engage in the effortful activity. For example, in an early study by Foxx and
Azrin, overcorrection was used to decrease self-stimulatory behaviors exhibited by children
with mental retardation. When a child engaged in a self-stimulatory behavior, a staff member
required the child to hold his or her hands for 15 seconds in each of five positions (together,
above the head, straight out, behind the back, and into pockets). The child had to continue
engaging in the series of hand movements for 5 minutes each time self-stimulatory behavior
occurred.
Overcorrection decreases problem behavior through a positive punishment process. The
procedure functions as a form of punishment by the application of aversive activities. Because
the child has to engage in an aversive activity contingent on the occurrence of the problem
behavior, the problem behavior is less likely to occur again in the future. Time-out from
positive reinforcement (a negative punishment procedure) is also involved in overcorrection
as the child is removed from reinforcing activities for an extended period of time while
engaging in the overcorrection activities. Because the child loses the opportunity to engage in
reinforcing activities contingent on the occurrence of the problem behavior, the problem
behavior is less likely to occur in the future.
There are two forms of overcorrection involving two types of effortful activities, restitution
and positive practice. Restitution and positive practice may be used individually or in
combination as a consequence for a problem behavior.

Restitution
In the restitution procedure, the child has to correct the environmental disruption or damage
caused by the problem behavior and restore the environment to an improved state. For
example, if a child engages in tantrum behavior and throws a toy, the parent would require the
child to pick up the toy and to pick up other toys in the room as well. Restitution is considered
over correction because the corrective action goes beyond the disruption or damage caused by
the problem behavior. Consider another example of a child who colors on a wall in the kitchen
when he or she is angry at a parent. To implement the restitution procedure, the parent would
have the child wash the wall on which he or she colored and wash an additional wall as well.

Positive Practice
In the positive practice procedure, the child has to engage in a correct form of relevant
behavior contingent on the occurrence of the problem behavior and repeat the correct
behavior a number of times for an extended period of time. For example, if a student makes
careless errors on spelling tests, the teacher could implement positive practice by having the
child write each misspelled word on a test 20 times. The positive practice procedure would
make the child less likely to make careless errors. Consider another example of a 5-year-old
child who wets his pants while playing in the backyard. Once the child had cleaned up and

changed his clothes, the parents would implement positive practice by requiring the child to
practice walking from the backyard to the toilet and standing in front of the toilet as if to
urinate in the toilet. The child would have to repeat this correct behavior a number of times
(e.g., 1015 times) over a period of 10 to 15 minutes. In this case, the parents could also
implement restitution along with positive practice. As soon as the parent becomes aware that
the child has urinated in his clothes, the parent would require the child to go to the bathroom,
undress, bathe himself, put on clean clothes, take his wet clothes to the laundry room, put the
clothes in the washer, and clean up any mess caused by wetting his pants.

Considerations in the Use of Overcorrection


The child is required to engage in an effortful activity for an extended period of time as part
of the restitution or positive practice procedure. Because the effortful activity is lowprobability behavior (an aversive or nonpreferred activity), most children will not readily
engage in the activity and may exhibit escape or avoidance behaviors when instructed to do
so. Therefore, the caregiver typically must use physical guidance to get the child to engage in
the effortful activity, at least initially. Once the parent has physically guided the child to
engage in the restitution or positive practice activity a number of times and the child learns
that he or she cannot escape the activity, the child typically will begin to comply with the
parents' instructions so that the use of physical guidance becomes unnecessary.
While implementing overcorrection, the caregiver must not accidentally reinforce the problem
behavior with attention. The caregiver must simply state the nature of the problem behavior,
instruct the child to engage in the restitution or positive practice activity, and provide physical
guidance as needed. When using physical guidance, the caregiver must not provide attention
in the form of explaining, scolding, nagging, repeating prompts, cajoling, or getting upset
with the child. The procedure should be implemented in a calm, matter-of-fact way without
the expression of negative emotion by the parent.
Because the use of physical guidance is usually required in the early stages of overcorrection,
it is important that the caregiver has the physical ability to carry out the physical guidance
with the child. The caregiver must anticipate that the child will resist physical guidance
initially and must be certain that he or she can implement the procedure if resistance should
occur. The caregiver must be certain that the physical guidance involved in the procedure is
not reinforcing to the child in any way. If it is, the caregiver must change the way physical
guidance is used or choose a procedure to address the child's problem behavior that does not
require physical guidance (e.g., response cost). Finally, the caregiver must be certain that the
physical guidance can be carried out without any harm to the child or to the caregiver.
Consideration of these issues suggests that overcorrection is most appropriate for younger
children, because it may be more difficult to use physical guidance successfully with older
children or adolescents.
One final issue to consider before using overcorrection is whether a functional assessment has
been conducted and whether functional, nonaversive interventions have been used to address
the problem behavior. A functional assessment is used to identify the antecedents and
consequences maintaining the problem behavior so that the antecedents and consequences can
be modified in treatment. Functional treatments involve extinction (in which the reinforcer for
the problem behavior is withheld), differential reinforcement (in which more desirable
behaviors are reinforced to replace the problem behavior), and antecedent control procedures
(in which antecedents are manipulated to prevent the problem behavior). In most cases,

overcorrection will be used in conjunction with these functional interventions or when such
interventions have been demonstrated to be ineffective in decreasing the problem behavior.

RESEARCH BASIS
Numerous research studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of overcorrection, showing
that both restitution and positive practice are effective in decreasing problem behaviors
exhibited by children with and without disabilities. Problem behaviors that have been
effectively treated with overcorrection include self-injurious behaviors, self-stimulatory
behaviors, aggressive behaviors, destructive behaviors, disruptive behaviors, out-of-seat
behavior, toileting accidents, and noncompliance. The duration of overcorrection has varied
from 1 minute to 30 minutes across studies, with shorter durations being as effective as longer
durations. Overcorrection has been effective with younger and older children, children with
normal intelligence, and children with disabilities such as mental retardation or autism.
Overcorrection has also been effective with adults with mental retardation. Finally, some
studies show that overcorrection can have an educative effect when a child is more likely to
engage in a desirable behavior in order to escape or avoid the overcorrection activities. In
such studies, the desirable behavior is negatively reinforced by the termination of the aversive
activities.

RELEVANT TARGET POPULATIONS AND


EXCEPTIONS
Overcorrection is most useful for younger children who engage in problem behaviors at home
or in the classroom. Because the parent or teacher must physically guide the child through the
restitution or positive practice activity, the child's size is an important factor to consider.
Physical prompting or physical guidance is more likely to be successful with younger children
and is more likely to be seen as acceptable for use with younger children. The exceptions
would be children for whom the physical contact associated with physical guidance is
reinforcing. If the physical contact is reinforcing, then overcorrection would not function as
punishment and would not be likely to be an effective treatment for problem behaviors.
Overcorrection may be effective for some children (even older children) without the use of
physical guidance if the child's behavior is under good instructional control (perhaps due to
the prior use of physical guidance to enforce compliance). For such children, instructions to
engage in the restitution or positive practice activity may be sufficient to get the child to
engage in the activity contingent on the problem behavior.

COMPLICATIONS
There may be a number of complications in the use of overcorrection. First, the caregiver may
not have the physical ability to physically guide the child through the overcorrection activity.
Second, the caregiver may find the use of physical guidance associated with overcorrection to
be unacceptable. Third, because the caregiver must engage the child in the overcorrection
activity for an extended period of time contingent on the problem behavior, the caregiver may
inadvertently reinforce the child's problem behavior with attention during the overcorrection
procedure. Fourth, the physical contact associated with physical guidance may be reinforcing
to the child. Finally, the use of overcorrection may be restricted in some settings. Because it is

a punishment procedure, its use may be banned or limited by school, agency, or state rules and
regulations. In some cases, rules or regulations may require the use of functional, nonaversive
approaches before overcorrection can be considered.

CASE ILLUSTRATION
One common use of overcorrection is in a treatment package for daytime or nocturnal
enuresis. The following case illustrates the use of overcorrection as part of a treatment
package for nocturnal enuresis (bed-wetting).
Sam was a 5-year-old boy in a family of four (a 2-year-old sister and both parents). Sam
was toilet trained at 3 years of age without complication but had continued to wet the bed at
period intervals (13 times per week). After seeing a physician to rule out any medical
problems, the parents implemented a treatment program with the following components under
the instruction of a behavioral psychologist: (a) the parents limited Sam's fluid intake 1 hour
before bed; he could only drink water if he was thirsty; (b) Sam urinated in the toilet just
before going to bed; (c) a pad and buzzer were placed under Sam's sheets to detect urination
in the bed; (d) Sam's parents woke him up one time before they went to bed at 11:00 P.M. and
had him urinate in the toilet; (e) if Sam had a dry night, the parents provided substantial praise
and intermittent tangible reinforcers; the parents also provided praise when Sam urinated in
the toilet at night; (f) finally, the parents implemented restitution and positive practice
overcorrection if Sam wet the bed at night.
When the buzzer sounded at night indicating that Sam had wet the bed, one parent went
immediately to Sam's room, turned off the buzzer, and implemented restitution followed by
positive practice. In the restitution procedure, the parent instructed Sam to go to the bathroom,
remove his wet clothes, and get in the bathtub. The parent then turned on a warm shower and
had Sam rinse himself. After Sam dried himself and put on clean pajamas, he had to take his
wet clothes and put them in the laundry room, return to his room, remove his sheets, wipe off
the plastic mattress cover, and take the sheets to the laundry room. The parent then instructed
Sam to put the clothes and sheets in the washer, add detergent, and turn on the washer. When
this was done, Sam had to get new sheets from the closet and make the bed under the parent's
guidance.
Positive practice was implemented after the restitution activities were completed. In the
positive practice procedure, the parent instructed Sam to practice getting out of bed and going
to the bathroom. Sam was told to get in bed and pull the covers over himself as if asleep and
then practice getting out of bed in the dark (a night light provided enough light to see),
walking to the bathroom, and standing in front of the toilet as if to urinate. The parent
instructed Sam to repeat this chain of behaviors 10 times. Once Sam completed the positive
practice procedure, he could return to bed to go back to sleep.
Because the overcorrection procedure required substantial time and effort by the parent in the
middle of the night, the therapist provided a careful rationale explaining the importance of
using the procedure and the positive outcome that was likely (no more bed-wetting). The
therapist helped the parents understand that they were already spending time dealing with
bed-wetting in the middle of the night, and that although the overcorrection procedure
required more time, in the end they would spend far less time as the bed-wetting was reduced
and eliminated. The therapist also instructed the parents to implement the procedure in a calm

and nonpunitive manner. The therapist told the parents to describe the procedure to Sam as a
way for him to take responsibility for the bed-wetting and not as punishment for bed-wetting.
In the case of Sam, the parents used the overcorrection procedure for bed-wetting just five
times in 4 weeks and then bed-wetting did not occur again. They kept the other procedures in
place for a few more months (pad and buzzer under the sheets, no drinks before bed,
reinforcement for dry nights, etc.) and then faded these procedures as Sam continued to be
successful having dry nights.
Raymond G. Miltenberger
Further Reading

Entry Citation:
Miltenberger, Raymond G. "Overcorrection." Encyclopedia of Behavior Modification and
Cognitive Behavior Therapy. 2007. SAGE Publications. 15 Apr. 2008. <http://sageereference.com/cbt/Article_n2084.html>.