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Behavioral Contrast

Behavioral contrast occurs in a multiple schedule of reinforcement or punishment and describes what happens when a change in the schedule of one part of the reinforcement or punishment changes a behavior in an opposite direction in the other component of the schedule. An example from Applied Behavior Analysis given is that of a child who eats cookies at the same rate given the presence or absence of his grandmother.  One day, the grandmother punishes the child from eating cookies when she is present. This results in reducing the cookie eating when the grandmother is in the kitchen, but increases the cookie eating in the alternate condition of the grandmother being absent (Cooper et.al., 2007, p. 337).

3 Ways to mitigate behavioral contrast effects:

  1. Teaching replacement behaviors
  2. Punishing all occurrences of the target behavior (all settings, all stimulus conditions, etc.)
  3. Eliminating or minimizing access to reinforcement for the problem behavior

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