Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy (ABA)

Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy (ABA) often used positive reinforcement to better help clients to comprehend the direct connection between a common situation, their behavior, and how the situation responds to their recurring behavior. This might be responding with a triggered emotion or a physical outburst.

Positive reinforcement can come in several forms. Though it can be as simple as offering a person a reward for completing a requested task or soliciting a positive response. It can even be used to gradually help them learn an important life skill that goes beyond the realm of clinical therapy.

What Is Positive Reinforcement?

In Applied Behavior Analysis, positive reinforcement is a cornerstone concept that focuses on strategically replacing negative behaviors with healthier, more productive ones. The overarching goal is to strengthen the development of desirable behaviors in both the short and long term.

In therapeutic application, positive reinforcement works by adding a rewarding stimulus after a behavior. In the hope that it will gradually increase the likelihood of making the person will do the behavior again in the future.

In this context, the stimulus is always some form of reward or a response that is reinforcing in nature. By introducing the stimulus immediately after the behavior, the positive reinforcement serves to draw a distinct connection between that improved behavior and the stimulus. With consistent repetition, the rewarding stimulus will help to strengthen the desirable response or improved behavior.

In psychology, positive reinforcement is very helpful for helping individuals with an autism spectrum disorder reach positive outcomes. However, the term “Positive” does not mean something “Good.”

It is not so much about rewarding the individuals as it is about adding something to their perspective, their responses, or their life skills. Taken in this context the term “Positive Reinforcement” is essentially about adding something “Good” because of the person engaging in the more desirable behavior.

This might be something simple as holding a door open for someone and being thanked warmly in return. The acknowledgment, as well as the positive affirmation of the gesture, are positive reinforcement, in that they add to the likelihood that the person will hold the door open again in the future.

When positive reinforcement is used for improving educational performance, it can be more deliberate. In this context, the goal is to help the person establish a causal relationship between the situation, the desired behavior, and the immediate reward. As before, the goal is to create the expectation of repeating the desired behavior in the future.

What Is Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence?

In ABA therapy. There are three main components to the causality relationships and responses of antecedent-behavior-consequence patterning.

It starts with the antecedent, while in the various cues leading up to the behavior. This might include obvious, as well as subtle triggers, phrases, stimuli, distractions, or even emotional states.

The behavior is the specific actions that are performed as a direct result of the antecedent. Many times these are negative, unhealthy, or perhaps even destructive behaviors with little constructive value.

Of course, the consequence is the definable outcome of those actions, behaviors, or emotional responses.
Though, it’s important to define the term “Consequence,” referring to the response or the action that happens after a behavior. It doesn’t have to necessarily have to carry a negative connotation.

In psychological terms, an antecedent could be something such as a student whose been given a challenging homework assignment. When that student finishes their homework promptly, and correctly, they are rewarded with additional free time. In this simplified example, the student is allowed to do something they enjoy is represents a form of positive reinforcement. The overarching goal is to encourage them to continue to do their homework well in the future.

The ABC Connection Technique

In Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, the ABCs is a technique that is often applied to children who have a learning disability, or some other type of disorder that impedes their academic or cognitive development. The goal is to create a causal connection of the ABCs in a way that uses positive reinforcement in a natural-feeling, intuitive way.

The goal is to help the child to better understand what they need to do to achieve the desired consequence; they might act out, throw a tantrum, or be otherwise disruptive because their learning disability or other disorder makes it difficult to intuitively understand the connection between the ABCs.

Many times applied behavior analysts will try changing the antecedent, by doing things like modifying the environment as necessary. Though a lot of the time, they tend to work with environments that are fixed and relevant to the child’s life. These might be common places like their dining room table at home, in the classroom, or perhaps in a public place, such as a favorite restaurant.

The Importance Of Consistent Reinforcement

In applied behavior analysis therapy, one of the critical components of understanding how and when to introduce reinforcements for a patient requires a systematic approach. This requires rock-solid consistency to help build and eventually the connection between the antecedent, the behavior, and the consequence.

When it comes to applying positive reinforcement, this consistency relies on knowing how and when to add the consequence as opposed to a negative reinforcer, where a consequence would be removed.

The majority of children will respond best to a reward that they enjoy as a special treat or something they crave. The child needs to truly want the item or privilege to be willing to go through the proper behavioral channels to fully earn it.

One of the best ways to use positive reinforcement as a part of applied behavior analysis therapy is to help the child connect the reward with important life skills that do not come easily to them. Being consistent with the connections between antecedent-behavior-reward is the best way to implement positive changes in a child’s behavior and weed out undesirable and harmful behavior.

The Difference Between Rewards & Bribery

The consistent application of positive reinforcement is in many ways a type of reward system, where a child receives desired items or privileges that they consider to be meaningful in return for performing the desired task or positively modifying the targeted behavior.
Though it’s important to differentiate the reward of positive reinforcement from bribery. In this context “Bribery” typically takes place after the child has already started engaging in problematic behavior and is offered an item to arrest the behavior. In this context, bribery does not help the child understand the ABC connection, and can obscure the effectiveness of the positive reinforcement technique. This is yet another reason why consistency is so important in the ABA positive reinforcement approach.