In social learning theory, the concept of reinforcement plays a vital role in understanding how individuals learn and adopt new behaviors. One such aspect of reinforcement is differential reinforcement.

What is Differential Reinforcement?

Differential reinforcement is a technique used to increase or decrease the frequency of a particular behavior by providing or withholding reinforcers for that behavior. It involves selectively reinforcing certain behaviors while ignoring or punishing others. The goal is to encourage desirable behaviors while reducing undesirable ones.

Types of Differential Reinforcement

There are several types of differential reinforcement, each with its own set of guidelines and objectives.

1. Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors (DRA)

This type of reinforcement involves reinforcing a desired behavior that serves as an alternative to the problematic behavior. For example, if a child throws tantrums when they don’t get their way, DRA would involve reinforcing positive communication skills like asking for what they want politely.

2. Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors (DRI)

DRI involves reinforcing a behavior that is incompatible with the problem behavior. For example, if a child hits others to get attention, DRI would involve giving them attention when they engage in positive behaviors like sharing or helping others.

3. Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviors (DRO)

DRO involves reinforcing any behavior other than the problem behavior. For example, if a child disrupts class by talking out of turn, DRO would involve providing positive reinforcement when they remain quiet for a certain period.

4. Differential Reinforcement of Low Rates (DRL)

DRL involves reinforcing a lower frequency or rate of the problem behavior. For example, if an individual screams frequently, DRL would involve providing positive reinforcement when they scream less often.

The Importance and Benefits

The use of differential reinforcement techniques can have several benefits, such as:


In conclusion, differential reinforcement is a crucial aspect of social learning theory that allows individuals to learn new behaviors through selective reinforcement. By recognizing and reinforcing positive behaviors while ignoring or punishing negative ones, we can create a more positive learning environment that promotes growth and emotional well-being.