Differential Reinforcement: DRO, DRA, DRI, DRL Explained

Whats the difference between DRO, DRA, DRI differential reinforcement

Learn Differential Reinforcement Once and For All

What’s the difference between DRO, DRA, and DRI? There is nothing that gives my students more trouble than differential reinforcement and the acronyms that go along with it. This hasn’t changed since the day I started teaching the RBT exam. To be fair, I also see BCBAs struggling with these terms. But, I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Today, you are going to learn DRO, DRA, DRI, and DRL, once and for all.

So, what is differential reinforcement? Differential reinforcement is simply reinforcing one behavior and putting other behaviors on extinction. Yes, there are more complex ways to describe it, but this is all you really need to remember. The key to the RBT exam and the BCBA exam is to not over complicate things. A lot of people want to pretend applied behavior analysis (ABA) is harder to learn than it actually is, but, it’s really not.

Here’s an example: During DTT (discrete trial training), I tell my client to grab the firetruck. The client grabs the teddy bear. Do you deliver reinforcement? No! You deliver corrective feedback and start the trial again. And, just like that, you have differentially reinforced your client. If the client grabbed the firetruck correctly, you would have delivered reinforcement.

SD firetruck -> grabs teddy bear -> no reinforcement
SD firetruck -> grabs fire truck -> reinforcement

Easy as that.

Now what about those acronyms? DRO. DRI. DRA. DRL. Let’s make it easy.

Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviors (DRO) – Pick a behavior. When that behavior is not happening, you deliver reinforce. You deliver reinforcement in the absence of behavior.

  • You pick screaming. When your client is not screaming, you deliver reinforcement. That’s it.

Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors (DRI) – Pick a target behavior and a second behavior that can’t happen at the same time. When the second behavior happens, you reinforce that behavior.

  • You pick sitting in their chair instead of standing up. These can’t happen at the same time. When the client is in their chair, you reinforce.

Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors (DRA) – Pick a target behavior and a replacement behavior. When the replacement behavior happens, reinforce that behavior. These behaviors can occur at the same time which is the primary difference between DRA and DRI.

  • You pick a child asking for a break instead of swiping materials. Asking for a break and swiping materials can occur at the same time, but you still deliver reinforcement whenever the client asks for a break.

Differential Reinforcement of Low Rates of Behaviors (DRL) – Pick a target behavior that you want to reduce, but not remove from a client’s repertoire. Set a target number or predetermined criteria. When the behavior occurs less than the target criteria, you reinforce that behavior.

  • You pick hand raising for DRL. Your client raises their hands 30 times per class. You want to decrease, but not eliminate, this. You set your criteria at 10 to start. If your client raises their hand 10 or less times, you deliver reinforcement. More than 10, no reinforcement.

Continue learning

Never forget differential reinforcement again. Still need help? Check out my video on Differential Reinforcement on YouTube:

If you are preparing for the RBT exam, I have a video that covers the entire RBT task list with timestamps:

If you are preparing for the registered behavior technician (RBT) exam or the board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) exam make sure you head to my youtube channel where I upload weekly videos featuring study guides, practice exams, and ABA terminology.

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