The definition of matching law is the following: a phenomenon according to which organisms tend to proportionally match their responses during choice situations to the rates of reinforcement for each choice ((Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). In other words, individuals tend to engage in behaviors that result in higher rates of reinforcement rather than behaviors that result in lower rates of reinforcement. For example, when collecting ABC data (to determine antecedents and consequences to challenging behaviors), it may be found that a child engages in higher rates of attention-seeking behavior with a specific caregiver because their attention-seeking behavior of dropping or self-injurious behaviors typically result in some form of attention, whether positive or negative. On the contrary, the same child may engage in those same challenging behaviors at a much lower rate with another caregiver who offers attention as reinforcement when the child is engaging in compliance behaviors like standing or sitting quietly instead of when that child engages in those challenging behaviors.

In other words, if a behavior is reinforced about 60% of the time in one situation and 40% in another, that behavior tends to occur about 60% of the time in the first situation, and 40% in the second. Although there are many other factors to consider when deciding which behavioral strategy will work best, implementing the matching law by “maximizing reinforcement for the desired behavior…[and] minimiz[ing] reinforcement for the problem behavior” can prove to be rather effective (McLean, 2018).

McLean, M.Ed, BCBA, S. (2018). Applying the Matching Law to Behavior Intervention. Retrieved from

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward. W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Janelle McDonald, ​M.A., BCBA, LBA – National Therapy Center