Reinforcement is the most important principle of Applied Behaviour Analysis. Reinforcement involves consequences that strengthen behaviour. It is anything that will increase the likelihood of a behaviour occurring again in the future.
An example of reinforcement can be: you go for a run, and afterward s you are very thirsty, so you drink a glass of water. After drinking the water you are no longer thirsty. In future, when you are thirsty you will drink a glass of water. This is a practical, real-life desmontration reinforcement as it resulted in an increase of the behaviours reoccurring.
With reinforcement, there are two different types: positive and negative. Often people associate the words “positive” and “negative as meaning “good” or “bad”, but this is not the case. In ABA terms, positive simply means addition of something and negative means the removal of something.
The example above shows negative reinforcement, as the thirst was removed. So, if a particular stimulus removes something we don’t like, we are likely to perform that behaviour again in the future.
Positive reinforcement is when a particular behaviour adds or presents something you like into your environment.
An example of this would be a parent gives their child an ice-cream for finishing their dinner. The child will learn that the behaviour of eating their dinner results in the addition of a preferred item (ice-cream), so in the future they are more likely to eat their dinner.
Reinforcement is an important consideration when we are trying to increase any behaviour; communication, play, social skills, or academic skills.
How to use reinforcement?
- Reinforcers are individual to each child. We must select items or activities that we know the child really enjoys. A child’s interests can change weekly, daily or even within sessions so it is important to have a variety of reinforcers available.
- At the start, reinforcement should be given every time to teach a new behaviour.
- Reinforcement must be delivered immediately after the desired behaviour occurs.
- Reinforcement should match the behaviour. Save the best reinforcement for the best responses.
- Pair social praise with objects and activities. We want the child to be reinforced by social attention only, eventually, so they do not need to access particular items and activities all of the time.
- Begin to fade out reinforcement by only offering it some of the time, not always, so the child doesn’t become dependent on reinforcement.