Definition of differential reinforcement

What is Differential Reinforcement?

Differential reinforcement is a strategy used in applied behavior analysis (ABA) to address challenging or undesirable behavior, usually in children. While there are a number of techniques used in differential reinforcement, the goal is always the same: to encourage appropriate behavior by giving or withholding reinforcement.

The theory behind differential reinforcement is that people tend to repeat behaviors that are reinforced or rewarded and are less likely to continue behaviors that aren’t reinforced.

Differential reinforcement consists of two components:

  • Reinforcing the appropriate behavior
  • Withholding reinforcement of the inappropriate behavior

‘Appropriate’ behavior in differential reinforcement may be recognized as: (1) not behaving inappropriately; or (2) choosing a positive response over a negative one.

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Think of differential reinforcement as the opposite of traditional discipline, which would be: Child displays a negative behavior and adult implements a punishment to discourage the behavior. Using differential reinforcement, the adult would not discourage the child’s negative behavior, only encourage the child’s positive behavior. By withholding reinforcement of the child’s negative behavior, the negative behavior fades away.

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What Does Withholding Reinforcement Mean?

Withholding reinforcement when using differential reinforcement essentially means ignoring inappropriate behavior. In most cases, this means not making eye contact, remaining silent, and moving away. Withholding reinforcement often causes the behavior to escalate before it begins to improve, so implementing it requires consistency and patience.

To achieve the most success, the adult must also immediately implement positive reinforcement when the child performed the desired behavior.


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How is Differential Reinforcement Used?

There are small nuances in the way differential reinforcement can be implemented:

Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior (DRI)

DRI involves reinforcing behavior that can’t occur at the same time as the inappropriate behavior. For example, a teacher wants the child to remain in his seat. Each time the student leaves his seat, the behavior is ignored. However, when the child remains seated, the teacher rewards him with a sticker.

Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA)

DRA involves reinforcing a behavior that serves as an alternative to the inappropriate behavior. A good example of this would be a child who demands food from his parents. Each time the child makes a demand, his parents would ignore him. Only when the child asks politely do the parents turn, acknowledge him, and satisfy his request.

Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO)

DRO involves rewarding the child when the inappropriate behavior does not occur during a specific amount of time. An example of this type of differential reinforcement would be a child who repeatedly leaves his seat during dinnertime. The parent would set a timer for ten minutes. If the child does not leave his seat during this time, he is rewarded with television time following dinner.

Differential Reinforcement of Low Rates (DRL)

DRL involves encouraging the child to reduce the frequency of a behavior. The behavior itself is not inappropriate, but the frequency in which the child engages in it is inappropriate. A good example of this type of differential reinforcement is a child who repeatedly washes his hands before lunch. In this case, the teacher wants the child to wash his hands, but not more than once before lunch. Using DRL, the teacher would reward the child by allowing him to be first in line to lunch if he avoids washing his hands more than once.

When is Differential Reinforcement Used?

Differential reinforcement is most often used with children, although it can also be used successfully with other populations and in many other settings.

For example, consider a human resources manager who implements specific rules regarding interoffice communication. Namely, that all employees must use email when they have questions. If an employee chooses not to follow this rule and instead leaves a voicemail with a question regarding his pay, the human resources manager would ignore his request until the employee sends the request in an email.

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Differential Reinforcement - ABA: Applied Behavior Analysis

Behavior change using principles of applied behavior analysis can be done with nonpunishment procedures using differential reinforcement. Differential reinforcement is defined as reinforcing a specific class of behavior while withholding reinforcement for other classes of behavior. For example, if the target behavior is for the learner to point to the color blue when instructed to, "Point to blue," he is only reinforced when pointing to the color blue. For any other response, the student does not receive reinforcement.

There are four forms of differential reinforcement:

  • Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible behavior (DRI)
  • Differential Reinforcement of Alternative behavior (DRA)
  • Differential Reinforcement of Other behavior (DRO)
  • Differential Reinforcement of Low Rates (DRL)

DRI - this procedures entails only reinforcing behaviors that are incompatible with the problem behavior while withholding reinforcement for the problem behavior. In other words, only behaviors that cannot occur simultaneously with the problem behavior are reinforced.

Example: Kevin engages in out of seat behavior so his teacher decides to implement a DRI procedure. She decides to reinforce a behavior that is incompatible with out of seat behavior. Sitting in his seat is chosen as the incompatible behavior because it cannot occur at the same time as out of seat behavior. Kevin only receives reinforcement (ex. token) for sitting in his seat while reinforcement is withheld when Kevin is out of his seat.

DRA - this procedure entails reinforcing a behavior that serves as a viable alternative for the problem behavior, but is not necessarily incompatible with the problem behavior. 

Example: Sarah engages in shouting out behavior after her teacher poses a question to the class. Her teacher decides to use a DRA procedure in which Sarah is only reinforced (ex. called on) for raising her hand to answer a question. This behavior is an alternative to shouting out, but is not incompatible as both the problem behavior and the alternative can occur at the same time. However, raising her hand is a more socially acceptable alternative.

DRO - this procedure entails delivering reinforcement whenever the problem behavior does not occur during a predetermined amount of time. 

Example: Julie pulls strands of hair out of her head when she is completing independent work. Her teacher decides to use DRO in order to reinforce the absence of pulling her hair. Using this procedure, the teacher sets a timer for three minutes on Julie's desk. If Julie does not pull her hair for the entire three minutes then she is reinforced. If Julie does pull her hair, she is not reinforced and the timer is reset.

DRL - this procedure is used to reduce the frequency of a behavior but not eliminate it from the learners repertoire entirely. This is typically reserved for behaviors that are socially acceptable but may occur too often. Using this procedure, reinforcement is delivered if a behavior occurs below a predetermined criteria.

Example: James uses socially appropriate behavior to greet peers but does so up to ten times in one class period. His teacher decides to use DRL to lower the rate of his behavior but she does not want to eliminate it completely. She decides to deliver reinforcement (ex. computer time) to James if he greets peers five or fewer times during the class period. If he greets peers more than five times, he does not receive reinforcement.

Strength and deformability of reinforced sandy soils under triaxial compression


Khryanina, O. V. Strength and deformability of reinforced sandy soils under triaxial compression / O. V. Khryanina, A. A. Bely. - Text: direct // Young scientist. - 2015. - No. 10 (90). - S. 348-352. — URL: (date of access: 01/11/2023). nine0004

Experimental studies were carried out with sandy soil samples in their natural state and with the introduction of reinforcing layers in a triaxial compression device. The patterns of increasing the strength parameters and decreasing the deformability of sandy soil depending on the number of reinforcing layers are revealed.

Keywords: reinforcement, triaxial compression, strength, deformability.

Consolidated - drained tests were carried out in a triaxial compression device [1] - according to the standard triaxial compression scheme according to GOST 12248–2010 [2] at all-round pressures  2 =  3 = const = 0.1; 0.2; 0.3 MPa on sandy soil samples with a diameter of 38.0 ± 0.1 mm and a height of 80 mm, with a sand porosity coefficient e = 0.624. Loading was carried out through rigid dies with fluoroplastic filters and with the introduction of a layer of silicone lubricant over them. The vertical pressure on the sample was transferred in steps equal to 5–10% of the given all-round pressure in the chamber [3].

Tests were carried out according to two schemes. In the first case, the soil was tested in its natural state. In the second, a synthetic mesh with a cell size of 1–1 mm was introduced into the sample perpendicular to the axis of the vertical load. In the experiments, the number of grids n varied along the height of the sample and the distance between them (Fig. 1). The twin samples were prepared by the volumetric method [4]: ​​a sample of sand is poured out of a funnel with an outlet diameter of 0.8 cm into a special form, which is installed on the lower base of the triaxial compression chamber. nine0009

The nature of the deformation of natural sandy soil under triaxial compression changes with increasing load. Before deformation e 1 = 10%, the deformation is homogeneous, with subsequent loading, the occurrence of inhomogeneous deformation with localization of deformations within a narrow band is observed.

When deforming sand reinforced at one, two, three levels along the height of the samples, there is a violation of the contact interaction of the reinforcing meshes with sand and its extrusion between the extreme reinforcing layers, as shown in Fig. 2, which is explained by the higher shear strength of the reinforcing layers compared to the contact interaction of sand particles [5]. nine0009

Fig.1. Scheme of placement of reinforcing layers in the sample: a) n = 0; b) n = 1; c) n = 2; d) n = 3

Fig. 2. Characteristic patterns of destruction of sandy soil samples when reinforced with a synthetic mesh a) n = 0; b) n = 1; c) n=2; d) n = 3

3. presents the results of testing sandy soil obtained at different values ​​of lateral pressure and equal initial density of sand samples. One can see a significant effect of reinforcing layers on the strength and deformability of sand [6, 7] (Fig. 4, 5). nine0009

As a result of the experiments performed, the following conclusions can be drawn:

1. With three-row reinforcement in a triaxial compression device, the angle of internal friction of the sand increases by 5 degrees compared to unreinforced sand. At the same time, the ultimate load is 4 times more than the ultimate load of sand in its natural state.

2. When one reinforcing layer is turned on, the angle of internal friction does not change, but cohesion appears in the sand, which is due to the work of the reinforcing layers. nine0009

Fig. 3. Dependencies  1 = f ( 1 ) for sand reinforced with synthetic mesh and unreinforced sand during testing at  3 = 0.1; 0.2; 0.3 MPa.

Fig. Fig. 4. Dependence of the deformation modulus E on the number of interlayers n

Fig. 5. Dependence of the deformation modulus E on the lateral pressure s 3 , MPa

3. With an increase in the number of reinforcing layers in a triaxial compression device, the angle of internal friction increases from 36.8 to 42 0 , specific adhesion - from 0 to 50 kPa.

4. Graphs s 1 = f (e 1 ) have a linear initial section, which is characteristic both for all types of reinforcement and for unreinforced soil. The proportionality limit increases with the degree of reinforcement.

5. A decrease in the deformability of sand, depending on the degree of reinforcement of the samples, was revealed.

6. In the initial linear section, with a three-fold increase in lateral pressure, the deformation modulus (Fig. 4, 5) increases for unreinforced soil by 2.5 times. The same trend is observed for soil reinforced in height with meshes: for single- and double-row reinforcement, the deformation modulus increases by 1.8-1.9once; for three-row - 2.9 times

7. For samples reinforced at three levels in height, there are jumps in the increment of vertical deformations (section a - b in Fig. 3) in the prelimit state, which can be explained by hardening due to an increase in contact interaction soil and layers.


1. Triaxial compression device STP-80/38 [Text]: Pat. RU 64648 Ros. Federation / Boldyrev G. G., Idrisov I. Kh., Boldyreva E. G.; applicant and patentee Limited Liability Company "Geotech" (LLC "Geotech"). — No. 2006504282; dec. 12/25/2006. nine0009

2. Soils. Methods for laboratory determination of strength and deformability characteristics [Text]: GOST 12248–2010. — Instead of GOST 12248–96; input. 01.01. 2012.

3. Khryanina, O. V. Experimental and theoretical evaluation of the joint work of a flexible foundation structure with a reinforced base [Text]: dis. … cand. tech. Sciences: 05.23.01 / O. V. Khryanina. - Penza, 2005. - 236 p.

4. Khryanina, O.V. Method of preparation of twin samples of sandy soil / O.V. Khryanina // Issues of planning and urban development: Sat. scientific Art. - Penza, 2002. - S. 144-146. nine0009

5. Melnikov, A. V. Strength and deformability of weak soils of foundations reinforced with reinforcement [Text]: monograph / A. V. Melnikov, O. V. Khryanina, S. A. Boldyrev. - Penza: PGUAS, 2014. - 176 p. - 500 copies. - ISBN 978-5-9282-1039-7.

6. Khryanina, O. V. Changing the stress state of foundation soils by introducing reinforcing elements into it [Text] / O. V. Khryanina, G. G. Boldyrev // Modern problems of foundation engineering: coll. scientific tr. - Volgograd, 2001. - P. 96–97.

7. Khryanina, O. V. On the ratio of strength parameters of reinforced sandy soils in shear and triaxial compression [Text] / O. V. Khryanina // Actual problems of design and construction of foundations and foundations of buildings and structures: Sat. scientific tr. - Penza, 2004. - S. 211-214.

Basic terms (automatically generated) : triaxial compression, sandy soil, lateral pressure, natural state, interlayer, synthetic mesh, internal friction, deformation modulus E dependence, unreinforced soil, unreinforced sand. nine0009


strength, reinforcement, triaxial compression, deformability., deformability

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