Response Cost

Response cost is a special case of a punishment procedure that involves taking away desirable possessions, points, tokens, or privileges in planned, incremental steps following the occurrence of undesirable behavior or failure to meet a specific goal.  Response cost is the term used for removing reinforcement for undesirable or disruptive behavior. In terms of Applied Behavior Analysis, it is a form of negative punishment. By removing something (a preferred item, access to reinforcement) you decrease the likelihood that the target behavior will appear again. It is often used with a token economy and is best used when a child understands the implications. Target behavior will appear again. The teacher may reinforce each correct response, or every third to the fifth correct response, depending on the reinforcement schedule. You need to constantly be evaluating the effectiveness of response cost. Does it reduce the number of inappropriate behaviors? Or does it just drive the inappropriate behavior underground, or change the misbehavior? If the function of the behavior is a control or escape, you will see other behaviors popping up, perhaps surreptitiously that serve the function of control or escape. If it does, you need to discontinue response costs and attempt differentiated reinforcement.

This reductive method is effective with children with ADHD, who often never get enough points for positive behavior, so they end up very quickly bankrupt in the classroom economy. Ironically, the one population for whom cost response is effective is students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Often they fail at classroom reinforcement schedules because they can never quite earn enough points to get the prize or the recognition that comes with earning points. When children start with all their points, they will work hard to keep them. Research has shown this can be a powerful reinforcement regimen for children with these behavioral disabilities. When you have real clarity about the behaviors for which children can lose points, tokens, or access to reinforcement, you will likely see very little of those behaviors. At the same time, you are reinforcing the desired behavior.

When children have a behavior that prevents their peers from learning, and creates a danger to him or others (eloping, climbing on furniture) response cost can provide a swift punishment without actually applying any aversive. If the ratio of positive reinforcement is not at least 3 to 1, your child may never get out of the hole. It will merely be punitive, and never really take hold. Reinforcing replacement behavior is still the most effective way to change undesirable behavior. Response cost programs are used as a component of a positive reinforcement program, where rewards (e.g., praise and attention, points, tokens, privileges) are provided for acceptable performance implementing a reward program applies and should be followed.

behavioral therapy

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