There are many things that people like, whether it be praise, food, activities, toys, money, touch, sound, smell, etc.. which may very well be things that we like. If these items do not increase our future behavior, they are preferred items and not reinforcers. One of the key concepts to remember about reinforcement, is that reinforcers will ALWAYS increase the behavior that came before it.
Reinforcers are, in a nutshell, any reward or consequence that comes after behavior AND increases that behavior.
The reinforcers must be motivating – the reward needs to be something that is wanted or desired AND worth it. It also should be individual – What one person likes, another may not. Both of these things matter, otherwise, no mater what you do, rienforcement will not be effective.
Example: You say, ‘If you eat all your vegetables, you can watch one episode of Mickey Mouse Club house before bed’
Is Mickey Mouse Club house motivating?
Is it individual?
If your child does not like Mickey Mouse Club house, then there is no incentive and so this is not a reinforcer for them. Perhaps they do like Mickey Mouse Club house but they still didn’t eat all their vegetables; In this case, they like the show, but it’s not worth it to have to eat all the vegetables- Mckey Mouse Club house is not a reinforcer for eating vegetables for this person. Now you might say the same statement to someone else and find that they ate all their vegetables- Mickey Mouse Club house is a reinforcer for this person’s behavior.
Reinforcement vs. Bribery Isn’t reinforcement the same thing as bribery? No, it is not. Which brings us to the third key concept to reinforcement, timing/immediacy.
Reinforcement comes AFTER the behavior you are trying to increase and increases it; bribery comes BEFORE the behavior in hopes that it will influence the behavior.
When you reinforce a behavior, it will always come after the behavior and only if that behavior happens.
Reinforment: ” If you eat all your vegetables, you can eat a delicious ice cream sundae for dessert”- The behavior is, eating vegetables, and the reinforcer is an ice scream sundae. Also known as ‘Grandma’s Rule’, they would get the ice cream sundae after they ate all their vegetables, not before they ate them. Now they could eat the vegetables or not eat the vegetables, but, if they don’t eat the vegetables, then, there is no ice cream sundae.
Bribery: “Here’s five dollars to buy your favorite snack, but you have to do the laundry when you get home.” Who’s to say that they will do the laundry? They may do the laundry or not, but they still got the $5 no matter the outcome.
So how do you use positive reinforcement effectively? Remember the phrase- I’M In Control (IMIC), to remember the following concepts:
I ndividualized – Understand that reinforcement is unique to the individual- what one person likes, another may not.
M otivation – If there is no motivation for what you are offering, then your reinforcement will NOT be effective no matter what you do. Consider the fact that motivation may change based on the circumstances.
I mmediate: Timing is important- When reinforcement is delivered immediately after the behavior, the connection between the behavior and the reinforcer is easier to make. When there is a delay in the delivery of reinforcement, the connection between the two becomes much more difficult to make and less likely that the behavior will increase.
C onsistent- At least initially when you are first teaching behavior, reinforcement should be delivered consistently as opposed to randomly. This produces faster learning and less confusion.
Shari Pirnia Adler, M.S, E.D,BCBA,LBA – National Speech/Language Therapy Center