Some thoughts on response cost
In our last blog we discussed token economy, a system in which an individual earns tokens for desired behaviors. Once he has collected a predetermined number of tokens he can trade them for an item or activity of his preference.
Today I’m going to present Response Cost: a strategy which involves token economies. An individual is fined a specific number of tokens when he behaves inappropriately, with the hope of reducing that inappropriate behavior. As an example, if I were to drive too fast on the highway (which I would never dream of doing) I might happen to be stopped by the police and fined a certain amount of money (tokens). The faster I drive (the more inappropriate the behavior) the higher the fines. Similarly, one could create such a system in educational and home settings. For instance, if you've a child who occasionally refuses to work at a task, and you find the task important enough to insist upon compliance, you may choose to respond to the behavior with a response cost. So, if the child were collecting stars to buy a chance to watch his favorite video, you may consequence his initial refusal with the removal of a star from his chart. Continued refusals may result in higher costs (two or three or more pennies).
However, response cost needs to be considered carefully before it’s implemented. Setting up an aversive situation as a response cost may do, can cause the child to lose his trust on the system and present more challenging behaviors. Therefore, response cost is not for every situation.
Guidelines for using response cost effectively:
- The behavior targeted and the amount of fine need to be explicitly stated. Always ensure that the child is well aware of what behaviors will result in the loss of tokens, and how those penalties will occur. Always ensure that there is a chance for the child to earn tokens back (i.e. “I’m taking a token away, but if you behave, you can earn it back”).
- Ensure a sufficient reinforcement reserve: The child always have more tokens than what you are taking away. You cannot remove tokens if the child doesn’t have any.
- You should recognize the potential of unwanted behaviors. The removal of tokens may result in outburst and aggressive behaviors. In those cases, either be prepared to “ride out the storm” or response cost should not be your strategy of choice.
- Response cost should be saved for major challenging behaviors. The teacher’s or parent’s attention should always be focused on positive behaviors. Response cost should be the last resource and rather than being implemented in isolation, it has to be combined with reinforcement procedures. The goal is always to build adaptive behaviors repertoires.
In sum, response cost must be part of your “tool box,” but should be implemented with caution.
And if not, I’ll take two stars from your reinforcement chart.
Daniel Adatto, BCBA