Eliminating Behaviors Through Type I Reinforcement


The discussion of reinforcement has focused on the "positive" goal of developing desirable behaviors. Another reasonable goal is to try to reduce or eliminate behaviors. There are essentially two ways to reduce or eliminate behaviors: (1) attack the behavior directly, or (2) attack the behavior indirectly by strengthening its opposite. The direct approach will be the topic of the next chapter. At this point we will discuss the use of reinforcement to lead to the indirect elimination of behaviors.

As you read this section, it will become obvious to you that incompatible behaviors can be strengthened through all three types of reinforcement. However, since Type II and III Reinforcement occur in close conjunction with punishment, the previous discussion has already made it obvious how these strategies can strengthen desirable behaviors while eliminating undesirable behaviors. The strategy for using Type I Reinforcement to accomplish the same goal, however, is not so obvious; and therefore a specific treatment of this topic may prove helpful.


Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior (DRI)

As the name suggests, with differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior (DRI) we eliminate a designated behavior by strengthening other behaviors that are incompatible with it. Logically, if one behavior increases as a result of reinforcement, then behaviors which are incompatible with the increased behavior must decrease. (If the weather gets warmer, it cannot simultaneously get colder; if my team has the ball and is scoring a touchdown, the other team cannot simultaneously be doing the same thing; if a child is being good, she cannot simultaneously be bad.) Thus, Type I Reinforcement provides an indirect attack on the undesirable behavior: the undesirable behavior is eliminated by encouraging its opposite. However, while the undesirable behavior is attacked only indirectly, the outstanding advantage of Type I Reinforcement is that it directly teaches what to do, instead of merely teaching what not to do. On the other hand, punishment (discussed in Chapter 11) has the advantage of directly attacking the undesirable behavior, but the disadvantages of (1) not directly teaching what to do and (2) producing negative side effects.

A large number of "undesirable" behaviors are really labels applied to the absence of desirable behaviors. For example, "being lazy" is a negative behavior which really means "not being active." "Being tardy" really means "not being on time." "Being sloppy" means "not being neat." Therefore, when such "undesirable behaviors" present problems, the most direct approach to their elimination is not punishment, but rather Type I Reinforcement of the desired behaviors. Once the hild starts to perform the desired behaviors, the "undesirable behaviors" automatically disappear.


Pamela's Tardiness for Supper
(Reinforcing Desirable Opposite Behaviors)

Pamela is constantly late getting home for supper. Her parents could punish her for her tardiness; and if punishment is effective, she will stop being late. On the other hand, her parents could take the opposite course of action and reward her for getting home on time. If the reward is effective, Pamela will develop the habit of arriving on time for supper; and since being on time is the opposite of being late, Pamela's problem of lateness thus could be eliminated without punishment. (Whether or not Pamela's parents would actually want to choose this second course of action would depend on several factors which will be discussed later in this section.)


Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA)

In the examples discussed so far, a desirable behavior has been the logical opposite of the undesired behavior. Even when such a logical opposite does not exist, Type I Reinforcement can still be used to eliminate an undesired behavior. This is referred to as differential reinforcement of alterative behavior (DRA). As an example, children get into trouble many times because they "have nothing to do." If this is the case, then, reinforcing any positive or neutral behavior would be a desirable tactic. The theory is that a person can be doing only one thing at a time; and if the person is receiving Type I Reinforcement for an activity which is at least harmless, then the person will not need to look for destructive ways to obtain such reinforcement.

DRI is more likely than DRA to lead to a permanent elimination of the undesirable behavior. By reinforcing a non-opposite alternative behavior, we do not provide a permanent solution for the problem; we merely distract the person from the undesirable behavior. Both DRI and DRA are more likely to be successful when the learner already knows how to perform the incompatible (or alternative) behavior. Likewise, if the teacher performs a functional analysis and identifies the reasons why the student has been performing an undesirable behavior, the teacher will be more successful by reinforcing an incompatible or alternative behavior that fulfills the same function. Finally, the alternative or incompatible behavior should be one that can be reinforced frequently and will eventually be maintained by natural reinforcers.

A specific approach to counseling, referred to as "brief therapy" is really an extension of the principle of reinforcing incompatible or alternate behaviors. In brief therapy, the counselor or other helper assists the client focus on exceptions to a prevalent undesirable behavior &emdash; circumstances in which the stated problem does not occur. The goal of the counseling is to expand the situations in which this more adaptive behavior is likely to occur (Cade & O'Hanlon, 1993; de Shazer, 1985, 1991; Murphy, 1994).


Where do you want to go next?

Introduction to Reinforcement
Artificial and Natural Reinforcement
Shaping New Behaviors
Applied Behavior Analysis
Token Reinforcement
Skill Training and Self-Management
Comparison of Types of Reinforcement
Eliminating Behavior through Reinforcement <<You are here>>
Details of Reinforcement
Answers to Quizzes
Annotated Bibliography