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A is for Apple Blog

An FAQ About Reinforcement

by Heather Logan | May 11, 2017
Written By: Dominique D., M.A. BCBA, A is for Apple, Inc.
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In my time and experience in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis, there have been a few common questions and concerns that I have come across on multiple occasions. These valid questions often come from parents but I have also encountered them with Technicians, Senior Technicians, and Supervisors.

  1. What is Reinforcement?
    • Reinforcement is a consequence. This means that is something that occurs after a behavior response has been produced. More specifically, this consequence increases the likelihood that the behavior response that occurred before will occur again. For example, if given a dollar every time you greeted a particular individual, you would likely find and greet that person.

  2. Is it Bribery?
    • While there may exist some similarities, such as both involve a performed action and something is delivered to the individual, reinforcement and bribery are fundamentally different. With reinforcement, the item is delivered, or contingent, on the response, or action.That is, the reinforcement is delivered after the response is produced. Bribery works in a different manner. Generally, the item is given with the expectation that the task will be performed at a later time.The issue with this is that there is no guarantee the that task will be completed.

  3. What Can Be Reinforced?
    • Any behavior can be reinforced. This includes desired behaviors and maladaptive behaviors.

  4. Why Isn’t It Working?
    • When using reinforcement procedures, we are teaching a contingency. It is best to think of this as a cause-and-effect, or pattern of behavior. We teach that within certain environmental circumstances, if a behavior response is produced, reinforcement will be provided for that response. Once this is established, the expectation is that the behavior increases.
    • Antecedent (a signal) > Behavior (desired response) > Consequence (reinforcement).

  5. How Can I Make It More Effective?
    • There are four principles of reinforcement that will enhance the effectiveness of reinforcement: Immediacy, Appropriateness, Consistency, and Contingency.
      1. Immediate – we want to deliver the reinforcement as quickly as possible to eliminate the possibility of reinforcing another behavior that may be produced in the delay. Also, the closer in time the response and reinforcer are, the stronger the pairing effect will become.
      2. Appropriate – the reinforcer is picked by the individual, it is an acceptable item to use in regards to social norms and age, and the amount of reinforcement provided matches the size of the task or response. So, bigger the task, bigger the reinforcement.
      3. Consistent – Everyone working with the individual, including parents, ABA team, and anyone else, will provide reinforcement in the same manner. This ensures that responses are consistent among everyone and decreases the likelihood that the individual may gravitate towards a “preferred” person.
      4. Contingent – The reinforcer is only delivered if the response is produced. Whatever level of the response we reinforce, that is the level the individual will expect to produce when seeking access to reinforcement.

  6. What Can Be a Reinforcer?
    • Virtually anything can be a reinforcer. However, that is only if the individual demonstrates motivation for that particular item. Just as our preferences are established by ourselves, our kiddo's preferences and motivations are of their own doing.

  7. What Else Should I Know?
    • A general rule is that if you do not have a reinforcer, you do not have a lesson.

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