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What is Differential Reinforcement?

Differential reinforcement is a behavior change technique that involves selectively reinforcing desired behaviors while reducing undesired behaviors. The goal of differential reinforcement is to increase the frequency of desired behaviors and decrease the frequency of undesired behaviors.


There are several types of differential reinforcement:

  1. Differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA): This involves reinforcing a desired behavior that serves as an alternative to an undesired behavior. For example, a child who engages in disruptive behavior may be taught to use appropriate communication skills as an alternative.

  2. Differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior (DRI): This involves reinforcing a behavior that is incompatible with an undesired behavior. For example, a child who engages in self-injurious behavior may be taught to engage in a relaxation technique instead.

  3. Differential reinforcement of low rates of behavior (DRL): This involves reinforcing a behavior that occurs at a low rate, such as waiting quietly for a turn, and ignoring the behavior when it occurs at a higher rate.

  4. Differential reinforcement of other behavior (DRO): This involves reinforcing any behavior other than the undesired behavior. For example, a child who engages in disruptive behavior may be reinforced for sitting quietly.

Overall, differential reinforcement is a useful technique for promoting positive behaviors while decreasing negative behaviors in a variety of settings, including schools, homes, and workplaces.

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