By definition, reinforcement will increase the likelihood that behavior will be used again in the future. As service providers it seems we often focus our attention on what type of reinforcement we are able to identify and how we can offer that reinforcement so we can influence the behavior of the people with whom we work. Some of the types of reinforcement:

Continual Reinforcement – the identified reinforcement is offered each and every time the target behavior is used (during toilet training every time the child voids on the toilet a smiley face is drawn on the calendar);

Fixed Ratio Reinforcement – the identified reinforcement is offered after a predetermined number of the times the behavior is used (for example, after every fifth math problem is completed the student is given a gold star);

Variable Ratio Reinforcement – the reinforcement is offered at times that are completely unpredictable (when people play slot machines they will repeatedly put money into the machine for the 1 in a million chance of winning big).

To this we can add timed reinforcements – fixed time reinforcements are offered after a specific and predetermined amount of time has passed; variable time reinforcements are offered after an unpredictable amount of time has passed.

To better serve those in our care, what we need to focus the majority of our attention on is not so much the schedule of our reinforcement, but the purpose and the function of people’s behavior. When we challenge ourselves to look at the environments and how we might make changes so that people don’t have the need to use their behavior in dangerous ways that is when we are beginning to effect change in people’s lives. It does sometimes involve systematic change from us as professionals. Continually asking ourselves what we can do to better support the folks we serve; what skills can we teach so dangerous behavior is not the “go to”; and, helping people be able to identify the stressors that contribute to the use of challenging behavior. These are all fundamental principles of positive behavior support.

Nikki Wince – Mandt Faculty