Beyond the B.A.S.I.C.S. Blog

Increasing Behaviors – Reinforcement

July 25, 2011

What is it?

Reinforcement increases a behavior. It can be ANYTHING (including something most would find to be a negative thing)!


  1. Bobby yells. The teacher walks out of the room. Over time he begins to yell more. Is the teacher walking out of the room a reinforcer?

YES. It increased his behavior.

  1. Kelly yells. The teacher walks away. Over time she yells less. Is the teacher walking away a reinforcer?

NO. It decreased her behavior.

  1. Jack smiles. The teacher gives him a cookie. Over time he smiles less. Is the cookie a reinforcer?

NO. It decreased his behavior.

  1. Karl smiles. The teacher flicks his ear. Over time he smiles more. Is the teacher flicking his ear a reinforcer?

YES. It increased his behavior.


-These are things that we naturally find as reinforcing
-Self stimulatory behaviors (scratching an itch, etc)

-These are things we learn to find reinforcing.

We can teach a student to find things to be reinforcing.

Types of Reinforcement

TANGIBLE: Things the person can have

ACTIVITIES: Things the person can do
-playing on the computer
-walk with staff

SOCIAL REINFORCERS: Something they get from other people

ESCAPE: Being let out of an activity or experience that is aversive
-Getting up from dinner table when done eating
-Ending the hug from Aunt Edna

TOKENS: Conditioned reinforcers that represent the above categories.


Reinforcer value is measured by how hard the person will work for the reinforcer.
-A high value reinforcer will get better preformance than a low value
What is a high value reinforcer for you?

Rate these. 5 is highest level. 1 in lowest level.

______ $1000
______ Gucchi purse
______ Gold chain
______ Canon professional grade DSLR camera
______ A day with Kim Kardashian

When I do this in trainings, everyone ranks things differently. We need to make sure that the students find the reinforcement to be value.

There are ways to INCREASE VALUE
-Deprive child of item before working with them
-Don’t give child a big meal if using food
-Only let child play with toy after working
-Vary the items so they don’t satiate (get tired of)the reinforcer
-for example: switch from food to toys to social

What are some types of reinforcement you use now?

Is it effective?

Choosing Reinforcement:

Direct Assessment: This is setting up trials to see what the child interacts with most.
-This is most effective

For example:
1. Put out a cookie, a grape, and a cracker
2. Record what the child grabs and eats

After this is assessed, then try it in practice.
1. Show the item
2. Ask them to perform a task
3. Give the reinforcer

Indirect Assessment: This is asking caregivers and even the child what they want
-This is not very effective. Several studies show that parents and caregivers are inaccurate
-However, this is the most common method

Schedules of Reinforcement:

Continuous: This means giving reinforcement for every correct response
-This is used to teach a brand new skill
-Doesn’t maintain a behavior
-example: Ordering food at McDonalds

Fixed interval: this means getting reinforcement after a set amount of time of engaging in the behavior
-This causes steady rates of behavior and usually a pause after reinforcement
-example: paycheck

Fixed Ratio: This means getting reinforcement after a set number of responses
-This causes steady rates of behavior and usually a pause after reinforcement
-example: combination lock

Variable (interval or ratio): This means getting reinforcement after an average number of times but the exact number or time changes each time to average out to a specific time or number.
-This causes the highest rate of behavior. I
-This maintains the best over time
-example: slot machine

*When setting the number of responses, test the child to see what he can do successfully and make criteria a little less than that to start off with and then increase as he does better.

Fading Reinforcement

-Reinforcement is faded by
-increasing time between reinforcement
-increasing number of correct responses for reinforcement

*This should be planned in advance

Things to remember:
-Don’t move too fast
-Practice often
-Give simple, clear directions
-Make sure you have good rewards
-Keep things positive
-If the behavior does not maintain, move back to previous step


Saundra Bishop, BCBA


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