Differential reinforcement: what it is and how it is used in psychology

In behavior modification techniques we find a wide variety of strategies to increase, decrease or eliminate behaviors. A key strategy is reinforcement, which encompasses all procedures that increase the likelihood that a behavior will occur.

In this article we will talk about a type of reinforcement, the differential reinforcement, Aims to eliminate or reduce behaviors while others are empowered. We will know the five types that exist, their characteristics, their application and examples of each of them.

    Differential reinforcement: what is it?

    Differential reinforcement is a type of learning inherent in behavior modification techniques (behavioral psychology), which it consists in reinforcing only certain pipes while others are put in extinction (They are no longer reinforced to disappear), or to reinforce certain behaviors after certain periods of time, etc.

    As we will see, there are five types of differential reinforcement, depending on the goal we have, and their characteristics are very diverse.

    What is reinforcement?

    It is important, in order to understand differential reinforcement, that the concept of reinforcement is clear. strengthen implies administer a positive stimulus or withdraw a negative stimulus when a certain action is performed, Which increases the likelihood of certain behaviors occurring. For example, a reminder could be a compliment (verbal reminder), a cookie (main reminder), a hug (social reminder), an afternoon at the movies, more time watching TV, more time with friends, etc. .

    Type, with examples

    There are several types of differential reinforcement, Depending on its characteristics and what we are trying to achieve:

    1. High Rate Differential Reinforcement (RDA)

    In this type of reinforcement the response will be reinforced if less than a certain amount of time has elapsed since the previous response. That is, what is sought is that the response increases its rate of occurrence and appears more frequently.

    RDA example

    An example illustrating 1 GDR is a teenage girl who has difficulty asserting herself (that is, who has difficulty saying what she thinks, saying “no”, defending her rights, etc.) . In this case, the way to apply high rate differential reinforcement will be to strengthen the adolescent if, during a period “X”, it asserted itself at certain timesIn other words, so little time elapsed between assertive behaviors.

    Thus, in relation to this matter, an assertive behavior would be for example to say “no” to the request of a favor that one does not want to do, or to express a personal opinion against what most think, in order to defend a personal interest., etc.

    Limited response RDA

    GDR has the following subtype called limited response differential enhancement. In this process, the subject is reinforced if the answer appears at least “X” times during a given period.

      2. Low rate differential reinforcement (RDB)

      This second type of reinforcement is opposed to the GDR. In this case, the response is strengthened if a certain amount of time has elapsed since the previous response. In other words, that is to say what is expected is that the behavior will reduce its frequency, Decreases and appears further apart in time.

      Thus, this type of reinforcement is indicated for cases where the goal is not to eliminate the behavior, but to reduce its frequency. These may be cases where the behavior itself is not harmful (but rather how often it occurs), or cases where the behavior simply cannot be eliminated in its entirety (that is, that is, it is difficult to obtain the absolute disappearance of the behavior).

      RDB example

      Let’s look at an example to illustrate the RDB: think of a child with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) that increases multiple times from the table, throughout the class. In this case, we would reinforce it whenever an “X” period of time passed (for example, 15 minutes) without having performed the action of getting up.

      In line with what we said previously, this is for the child to get up less often throughout the class. In this example, lifting up is not inappropriate behavior, but it is very often.

      Limited response RDB

      Like RDA, Low Rate Differential Reinforcement also has the following subtype: Limited Response RDB. In that case, a response less than “X” is allowed within a given period of time, and is reinforced if obtained. That is, it reinforces the subject so that it emits less than a certain number of behaviors in a given space of time.

      3. Differential reinforcement of other behaviors (RDOC)

      Differential reinforcement of other behaviors, unlike the previous two, it has a dual and simultaneous objective: Decreases the occurrence of some behaviors and increases the occurrence of others. It is indicated for cases where the original behavior needs to be replaced by a more appropriate or functional behavior.

      In this case, the “other behaviors” to which the name of the reinforcement refers allude to behaviors functionally equivalent to the behavior we want to reduce, but more adaptive.

      Example of RDOC

      For example, this type of reinforcement could be applied to a child who, instead of speaking, uses screaming to ask for things; in this case, we would strengthen the child each time he asks for good things, when he asks for them by speaking and without raising his voice, and on the contrary, we would not strengthen him when he asks for things by shouting. Thus, we would apply differential reinforcement, as we reinforce some behaviors and others not.

      4. Differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviors (RDI)

      This type of differential reinforcement is very similar to the previous one; in that case, we have a behavior that we want to decrease or eliminate directly (Inappropriate conduct). How would we apply the procedure? Do not reinforce this inappropriate behavior, and reinforce the behaviors incompatible with the inappropriate behavior (the latter being appropriate behaviors).

      RDI example

      An example of this type of procedure would be to reinforce a child who, instead of sticking, is doing manual labor. These are behaviors that you cannot perform at the same time, as both involve the use of hands (i.e., they are incompatible behaviors). Also, while the first (gluing) is inappropriate, the second (crafting a craft) is appropriate.

      On the other hand, an advantage of RDI is that the incompatible behaviors can be more than one (thus we also increase the behavioral repertoire of the appropriate behaviors); in this way, the goal will be to increase the frequency of appropriate responses and turn off inappropriate responses.

      5. Differential reinforcement of the omission (RDO)

      In the differential reinforcement of the omission, it reinforces the subject if in a certain time interval the response has not appeared. In other words, the lack of response or the omission of the same is rewarded. The goal is for the behavior to decrease depending on how often it occurs.

      RDO example

      To illustrate this type of differential reinforcement, we can think of certain aggressive behaviors, self-harm, etc. In this case, the non-emission of these behaviors will be reinforced (eg: hitting, self-harming, insulting, etc.). In other words, that is to say it applies to those inappropriate behaviors that we want to eliminate.

      If the application of the DRO is effective, we will have an ideal scenario to establish alternative and adaptive behavior, as the maladaptive behaviors will be gone.

      Bibliographical references:

      • De Vega, M. (1990). Introduction to cognitive psychology. Psychology Alliance. Madrid.
      • Vallejo, MA (2012). Handbook of Behavioral Therapy. Tom I and II. Madrid: Dykinson.

      Leave a Comment