Grey Matters: Understanding Reinforcement
Learn the ABC’s
Antecedent, behaviour, consequence (ABC) data collection is described as the basic model for operant conditioning. ABC data is collected to provide evidence of what is maintaining the behaviour (function) and what interventions (support approaches) can be employed to increase or decrease the future occurrence of the behaviour (Cooper et al., 2020).
At Positive Developments , teams may be asked to collect ABC data by filling out an incident report when a behaviour of concern occurs or by filling out a client-specific data collection sheet.
Here is an example that you might experience.
The event or stimulus that occurs immediately before a behaviour.
- a housemate starting to scream
An individual’s response to the antecedent or stimulus.
- The individual you are supporting hitting their housemate who is screaming
What occurs after the behaviour.
- Staff directing the housemate to another space
In this situation, the hypothesized function would be that the individual engages in aggression towards their housemate to escape from the sound of screaming . By directing the housemate to another space after the individual hit them, the individual’s hitting behaviour was reinforced and the behaviour is more likely to occur again.
Reinforcement adds or removes a stimulus to increase the probability of the behaviour occurring again (Catania, 2021; Cooper et al., 2020). Reinforcement can be positive or negative depending on whether a stimulus is added or removed following a behaviour.
- Positive reinforcement means that a stimulus is added after a behaviour to increase the probability that the behaviour will occur again in the future.
- Negative reinforcement means that a stimulus is removed after a behaviour to increase the probability that the behaviour will occur again in the future (Cooper et al., 2020).
An example of positive reinforcement from my current personal life would be:
- Antecedent- I have no clean clothes left in my drawer,
- Behaviour- I do a load of laundry,
- Consequence- I have clean clothes to wear to work tomorrow.
Having clean clothes to wear to work tomorrow serves as reinforcement and increases the likelihood that I will engage in the behaviour of doing laundry again in the future when I don’t have clothes in my drawer.
An example of negative reinforcement from my personal life would be:
- Antecedent- I set a loud alarm for 6:00am,
- Behaviour- I hit the snooze button when my obnoxious alarm goes off,
- Consequence- the loud beeping noise ceases for 5 minutes.
The removal of the obnoxious noise increases the likelihood that I will engage in the behaviour of hitting the snooze button again in the future.
Taking note of the ABC’s can help teams develop plans that more effectively support individuals to reduce or eliminate behaviours of concern.
‒Kayla Mellies, Support Approach Consultant
Catania, C. (2021). Basic operant contingencies: Main effects and side effects. In W.W. Fisher, C.C. Piazza, & H.S. Roane. (Eds.), Handbook of applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.), (pp. 37-57). Guilford Press.
Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). Pearson.