Angela Cathey, M.A. & Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA
Brett DiNovi & Associates
Many behavior analysts begin with a rather constrained view of what drives behavior as a result of educational contingencies. It is often easiest, and most efficient, to first teach new behavior analysts about the three-term contingency (i.e., Antecedent > Behavior > Consequence). Though this is an effective teaching tool it can be easy for us to lose track of the fact that all behavior is driven by numerous coexisting contingencies. Whether we are talking about the three-term contingency or discussing schedules of reinforcement it is important to keep in mind that we are simply attempting to identify those contingencies that are most significant in driving the individual’s behavior.
In a recent video by Brett DiNovi & Associates, Brett discusses examples of behavioral contingencies in life and less frequently discussed ways to use behavioral contingencies to improve adaptive behavior. Among the examples provided by Brett in this video is a wonderful example of expanding our own view of what ‘punishment’ is and how we might use it productively to promote more adaptive behavior. First, as Brett explains, the word “punishment” tends to carry negative associations but when we are speaking about “punishment” in the behavioral sense we are simply referring to something that reduces the frequency of a behavior. Though we, as behavior analysts, always attempt to drive behavior by reinforcement, the use of “positive punishment” (or adding an aversive to reduce the occurrence of a behavior) is sometimes necessary and effective.
In the clinical example provided, a child who is demonstrating significant aggressive behavior towards others across contexts is also displaying strong compulsions to straighten and clean objects in his environment. After exhausting methods of reinforcing non-aggressive behavior, the behavior analyst decides to use the contingencies driving the compulsions to reduce the child’s dangerous aggressive behavior towards others. To do this, they simply move items or add items to the environment that induce the child’s urge to straighten or clean when he displays aggressive behavior. The child is both redirected in the moment and experiences these changes as aversive, thus reducing his aggression towards others.
The apt clinician may also spot that this may strengthen the compulsion; however, as mentioned above one must always keep in mind that all behavior is driven by multiple contingencies and sometimes we may need to slightly strengthen or reinforce a less dangerous behavior in order to begin to control dangerous behaviors like aggression towards others. Once the dangerous behavior is under control you can then transfer control of the behavior to positive reinforcers that match the natural environment. For example, the child’s aggression once reduced may then be further reduced and maintained by increased play time or access to other activities that may function as reinforcers. This would then allow the behavior analyst or clinician to address the less dangerous behavior of compulsive cleaning and straightening.
If you’d like to learn more about how to drive better behavior check out the full video, and subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos. Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!
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Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at [email protected]
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