What is Differential Reinforcement?

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The principle of differential reinforcement is a behavior therapy technique which uses rewarding and punishing behaviors to encourage desired responses. It’s primarily used in treating autism, but can also be applied to other problems as well.

Differential reinforcement is a type of learning theory that uses positive and negative reinforcement to teach individuals. It can be used with humans, animals, or machines. Read more in detail here: differential reinforcement psychology.

Differential reinforcement is one of several tactics used by educators, ABA therapists and even parents to improve or reduce specific behaviors. Although it is most often employed in environments where children are present, it may also be utilized in the workplace or in other unique circumstances. When interacting with kids who have autism, this is crucial since some of their actions might be inappropriate, disruptive, or destructive and need to be swiftly changed.

In general, using reinforcement is a strategy to influence someone else’s behavior. This is accomplished by either introducing new elements into the environment or removing existing ones. There are so two categories of generic reinforcement:

When something is given to the environment after the desired action occurs, such as receiving a sticker on a sticker chart when a kid raises their hand rather than yelling out, this is known as positive reinforcement

When something is removed from the environment after the desired action occurs, negative reinforcement takes place, increasing the probability that the behavior will occur again in the future. As an example, if a student correctly completes 20 minutes of work, the next 10 minutes are free from work expectations.

Noting that they are neither punishments or consequences, positive and negative reinforcement both aim to encourage desirable behaviors.

More precisely, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) employs the approach of differential reinforcement to deal with difficult or unfavorable behavior, often in young children. Differential reinforcement uses a variety of methods, but it always aims to reward or deter inappropriate conduct in order to promote acceptable behavior.

According to the differential reinforcement hypothesis, individuals are more likely to repeat acts that have been positively evaluated or rewarded than they are to do the opposite (

Two elements make up differential reinforcement:

Promoting a suitable conduct

Delaying rewarding the improper conduct

Differential reinforcement types

However, there are distinct situations in which adults would reinforce a kid and certain methods in which they will do so. All differential reinforcement has the same aim and function.

The following details regarding these kinds are taken from applied behavioral Analysis Edu and Evidence-Based Instructional Practices for Young Children with Autism and Other Disabilities.

1. Differentially Reinforcing Alternative Behavior (DRA)

The adult will deprive incorrect conduct of reinforcement while rewarding more suitable behavior with reinforcement.

A straightforward illustration of this in a school context is if young Johnny often leaves the room while arithmetic is being taught. If it is safe to do so, the instructor should block Johnny’s exit. If Johnny returns to class, he will be promptly handed his arithmetic homework. He won’t be able to avoid his employment obligations.

In the second stage of DRA, the instructor will start to teach Johnny behaviors besides eloping. Johnny has many options for taking a break: he may ask for one, turn a break card over on his desk, put in a certain number of minutes of work to earn a certain number of minutes off, etc. In these situations, Johnny is receiving encouragement for acting in more suitable ways in exchange for a little respite.

When employing DRA, parents must continue to model the replacement behavior for the kid and clearly teach it to them. For reinforcement to be successful, it must be delivered often.

2. Dual Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior (DRI)

Although parents should utilize DRI when a kid exhibits both incorrect and acceptable conduct at the same time, this sort of reinforcement is quite comparable to DRA.

The instructor will want Johnny to learn to raise his hand without simultaneously crying out, which is an excellent illustration of this if Johnny has a tendency of doing so. Instead of speaking, Johnny may learn to raise one hand in the air and place a finger over his lips in the manner of a “shhhh, silent” gesture. Even if Johnny raises his hand, the instructor will ignore him each time he calls out. He will only get positive reinforcement (in whatever manner the instructor sees fit) when he raises his hand without shouting.

3. Discriminatory Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO)

The difference between this sort of reinforcement and others is that the adult will choose a certain time window during which to provide a reward. Any reinforcement is withheld for improper conduct, such as in DRA and DRI, but is provided for acceptable behavior for all other behaviors throughout the course of a defined period of time.

For instance, Johnny is disrupting other students who are working on their morning tasks when he is supposed to be performing his, thus the instructor is having trouble with him. When utilizing DRO, the instructor will set a timer for x minutes (let’s say one minute), and when the timer goes off, Johnny will get a School Store Buck if he is correctly working on his duties and not bothering other kids. The instructor will restart the timer and continue if the work is still being done. Johnny will not get reinforcement if the timer rings while he is loitering or bothering another kid.

If there aren’t enough people in the classroom and no one to monitor the timer and deliver the reinforcement, this kind of differential reinforcement may be exceedingly tiresome and time-consuming. If you just provide reward when your interval timer beeps (i.e., brief DRO), you are not addressing any problematic behavior that happens while the timer is still running. This is another drawback of DRO.

4. Individual Low Rate Reinforcement (DRL)

Last but not least, DRL is a sort of engaged behavior in which the frequency is the problem rather than the engagement itself. On its website, Applied Behavioral Analysis Edu provides the following concrete example:

a youngster who regularly washes his hands before eating. The instructor in this instance requests that the student wash his hands just once before lunch. If the student avoids washing his hands more than once, the instructor will use DRL to reward him by giving him the opportunity to be first in line for lunch.

Adults who utilize differential reinforcement should get specific training on these kinds, the situations in which they might be used, and how to tell one type from another. When reinforcements are used improperly, intended behaviors may revert or undesired results may occur.

Differential reinforcement may be a powerful tool for changing behavior when applied properly, regularly, and by people who are familiar with the child.

Taylor Wilson

Northeastern State University offers the Master of Education degree.

Disorders of Behavior and Learning | Georgia State University

May 2020

More Interesting Articles

Differential reinforcement of other behavior is a learning technique that uses positive and negative reinforcements to reinforce desired behaviors and discourage undesired ones. Reference: differential reinforcement of other behavior.

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