Reinforcers

Professional Tools and Resources for Behavior Analysts

hosted at Science of Behaviorwww.scienceofbehavior.com

This page is a work in progress.


  • Reinforcer Assessment Methods and Forms
  • Any student’s intervention is more likely to be effective when a variety of preferred items, activities, or other “favorites” are identified.
  • These potential reinforcers may be very useful in the intervention.
  • This is especially true when it is reported that a student
  • “won’t work for anything.”
  • Several reinforcer assessment methods are described below.
  • Interview Methods and Forms
  • The interview method involves you, other informants who know the student well, and the student
  • (with good communication skills) in a discussion that is guided by open-ended questions.
  • The interviewer may add probing questions or comparison queries like “what does he like the most?”
  • Surveys or inventories may also be used to rank order preferences from highest to lowest.
  • Resources from Jim Wright’s interventioncentral.org:
  • Jackpot Reinforcer Survey – Supports selection of potential reinforcers of various types:
  • * Academic or Non-academic Activities * Adult or Peer Attention
  • * Edible or Tangible Items * Escape
  • * New items or activities may be added.
  • A custom Reinforcer Survey tool or a Reward Menu can be printed before the interview.
  • Or, information can be entered online during the interview and printed afterward.
  • “Rewards”Helpful tips
  • Direct Observation Reinforcer Assessment
  • This method requires more time and effort than interviewing,
  • but more valid information may be obtained.
  • Moderate expertise in observation and measurement methods is required.
  • Consultation from a professional with advanced training may be advisable.
  • Setting: May be during free time in a natural environment like the classroom or a room at home. In some cases, the natural setting or a different setting is enriched with many of the student’s favorite items or activities.
  • Procedure: The individual is briefly exposed to an array or items or activities that are believed to be liked (preferred). The student is then given free access to the items and activities. No demands are placed on the student and there are no restrictions for access.
  • Measurement: The observer records the amount of time the person engages with each item and activity. The cumulative observation time may be several hours over multiple days. When the data indicate that the student has accessed an item or activity for more time, it is presumed that the item or activity is of greater preference.
  • Systematic (Trial-Based) Reinforcer Assessment Methods and Forms

Systematic assessment typically yields more valid information than interviews,

and may yield more valid information than direct observations.

  • Advanced expertise in stimulus presentation, observation, and measurement is required.
  • Consultation and proficiency-based training from a Behavior Analyst may be advisable.

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  • Reinforcer Delivery Cues and Timing Tools
  • Use audio, vibration, and/or visual cues to help improve intervention success
      • by implementing consistent schedules of reinforcement.
There are many uses for cues:

  • Cues can signal adults when to look for and reinforce specific desired behaviors.
  • Cues can be used to signal the student when the next opportunity for reinforcer delivery will occur.
  • Cues can be used to signal students when to ask for feedback about their behaviors (“how am I doing?”).
  • Cues can be used to signal students when to self-monitor their behaviors. Some intervention plans are stronger when they include student self-monitoring and self-reinforcement.
  • Variable schedules of cues can be generated (see below.) These prevent the student from learning to predict fixed schedules.
  • The schedule of cues can be thinned to occur less often as the student makes progress. For example, an initial 5 minute schedule may be gradually thinned to a 7 minute schedule, then a 10 minute schedule, then a 15 minute schedule, and finally a 30 minute schedule.
  • To prevent the student from hearing the cues, mute or reduce the volume, use tactile (vibrating) cues, or wear earbuds or headphones.

Mobile devices, smart phones, and smart watches provide a variety of applications (apps) for recording and/or producing voice cues, sounds (e.g., beep, ding), or vibration cues. These app are available in the Apple and Android stores. These can be very efficient for timing the delivery of reinforcers. For example, the Motiv-Aider is available at Android and Apple app stores ($2-3), and as a small portable device ($50).

When you find a good app, please share the news so it can be posted here for others!

  • Example: A VI-10 schedule may beep at 7, 11, 14, 8, 10 minutes and so on.
    • Click here for an audio CD with 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10 and 15 minute variable schedules.
    • Or, make one yourself – click here to generate the VI schedule and record cues to a mobile device, smart phone, smart watch, or MP3 player.
  • Or, prepare a random written schedule for manually setting a timer or alarm.
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