This is the second blog in our series on how to deal with challenging behaviour. In my previous post I discussed the principles of reinforcement, extinction and punishment. You can read the first post of this series by clicking here. All techniques in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) are based on these three principles. One of these techniques is differential reinforcement. Differential reinforcement is based on the principles of reinforcement and extinction. Behaviour that is different in some way to the ‘challenging behaviour’ is reinforced, whilst the challenging behaviour is placed on extinction. There are different forms of differential reinforcement, which are described below.
Differential reinforcement of other behaviour (DRO)
DRO is when any behaviour that isn’t the challenging behaviour is reinforced. For example, if the challenging behaviour is leaving the table whilst completing homework, we would reinforce all other behaviours, such as sitting at the table, writing out homework questions, looking at the book, taking out materials, asking questions etc. When the challenging behaviour is engaged in, we place this on extinction, so that this is the only behaviour not receiving reinforcement. Therefore, the challenging behaviour no longer results in reinforcement, while all other behaviours do. This increases motivation to engage in the ‘other’ behaviours and reduces the motivation to engage in the challenging behaviour.
Differential reinforcement of alternative behaviour (DRA)
DRA is when appropriate behaviours are reinforced, whilst the challenging behaviour is placed on extinction. For example, if the challenging behaviour is hitting the teacher when asked to wait, the replacement behaviour may be learning waiting skills or polite ways to request a break.
Differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviour (DRI)
DRI is when a behaviour that is incompatible with the challenging behaviour is reinforced. Incompatible in this context refers to a behaviour that cannot be performed whilst also engaging in the challenging behaviour. For example, if the challenging behaviour is screaming, the incompatible behaviour would be speaking calmly. This is incompatible as the person cannot both scream and speak calmly simultaneously. Arriving to work on time is a behaviour incompatible to arriving to work late. Whatever the challenging behaviour is, we simply think of the behaviour that would be opposite, or impossible physically to engage in at the same time. This behaviour is then reinforeced whilst placing the challenging behaviour on extinction.
Differential reinforcement of higher rates of behaviour (DRH)
DRH increases the frequency of ‘positive’ behaviours that we are already seeing, but want to see even more of. For example, it could consist of a star chart, where Dora has to gain 10 stickers before she receives her reward. So if the behaviour is making her bed, Dora would receive a sticker each time she makes her bed. When she has done this 10 times she would receive the reward. This is also the idea behind loyalty cards; whereby you are already purchasing a product, e.g. a coffee. By giving you a loyalty card, each time you purchase a coffee you are reinforced. However you still need to buy a certain number of coffees in order to receive the ultimate reward of a free coffee.
Differential reinforcement of lower rates of behaviour (DRL)
DRL decreases the frequency of a behaviour, which while appropriate in form, is inappropriate in terms of its rate of occurrence. Examples include: repetitive questions, excessive use of social media, or overindulgence on snack foods. Weightwatchers use of points and ‘sins’ reflects this approach. In the context of social media or online use, Charlie might be given 5 stars to use, whereby he will ‘use’ a star each time he goes online. If at the end of the day, Charlie has any amount of stars left, even one, then he will receive a reward. This works to reinforcement his engagement in lower rates of this behaviour.
With each form of differential reinforcement, the important element is that the challenging behaviour is placed on extinction, so that this behaviour will no longer serve a purpose. This is an effective technique as we are teaching more appropriate ways to get needs met. It is important to remember that the needs (or function) remains, and therefore when we place a behaviour on extinction we need to teach the person another way to get their needs met. Without these means, the person may engage in other challenging behaviours in an attempt to have their needs met.
The next article of this series will focus on antecedent based interventions. You can read the third post of this series by clicking here.