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Sage or Quartz? Reinforcer Assessments

Reinforcer Assessments

What is the difference between a preference assessment and a reinforcer assessment? Choice versus function; Only reinforcer assessments measure effectiveness!

Reinforcer assessments ensure the most effective use of reinforcers by routinely monitoring the effectiveness of reinforcers using reinforcer assessments. Regular systematic reinforcer assessments lead to reduced maladaptive behavior and higher correct responding (Mason et al., 1989).

Reinforcer effectiveness occurs along a continuum rather than as distinct extremes (effective or not effective), thus these assessments provide a hierarchy of effective reinforcers.

Remember to use stimuli identified as potential reinforcers

through preference assessments!

Three variations of reinforcer assessments allow for a thorough analysis of reinforcer effectiveness; let's use these three assessments to identify Madame Behaviora's strongest reinforcer!

1.Concurrent schedule

2.Multiple schedule

3.Progressive schedule

1.Concurrent schedule reinforcer assessments compare the effects of two stimuli to determine which will produce the more desirable effect in responding and/or behavior reduction when presented as a consequence.

•The reinforcer that produces the highest rate of responses and/or lowest rates of maladaptive behavior is the more effective reinforcer.

Ensure the presentation of similar tasks and tasks of similar difficulties.

EX: When comparing the effectiveness of sage and quartz as reinforcers for Madame Behaviora, the BCBA alternates the use of each reinforcer during a single seance, then compares the data collected on seance trials. A higher rate of responding was observed during seance trials where sage was presented as a reinforcer, therefore sage is the more effective reinforcer.

2. Multiple schedule reinforcer assessments consist of two or more component schedules of reinforcement for a single response with only one component schedule in effect at any given time. A SD signals the presence of each component schedule (and remains present). Multiple schedules is only "testing" one stimulus.

•Present the same stimulus contingent (response dependent) on each occurrence of the target behavior in one component of the multiple schedule, and on a fixed-time schedule (response independent) in the other component.

EX: The BCBA wants to see if sage functions as a reinforcer for Madame Behaviora, so he provides it contingent on Madame Behaviora’s seance behavior on weekdays (when one component of the multiple schedule is in effect). During the weekends (on the other component), the BCBA presents sage on a fixed time schedule (independent of seance behavior). The date demonstrate that Madame Behaviora's seance behavior increased on weekdays, therefore sage functions as a reinforcer.

(Why? there is a relationship between seance behavior on weekdays and reinforcement, and the SD to signal the availability of R+).

3. Progressive schedule reinforcer assessments measure the breakpoint at which a reinforcer’s effectiveness declines. It compares the relative response effort a learner is willing to emit to gain access to a given reinforcer.

•The interventionist systematically increases the response required for the learner to achieve reinforcement, regardless of responding. The breakpoint occurs when responding declines. The more effective reinforcer is the one associated with the highest breakpoint (the highest rate of responding).

•Make sure to plan the systematic progressive schedule (how often and how much will response effort required be adjusted). Maintain the same schedule across all test sessions.

Two types:

•Progressive Ratio Schedules of Reinforcement (PR)

•Progressive Interval Schedules of Reinforcement (PI)

Ex: When comparing the effectiveness of sage and quartz as reinforcers for Madame Behaviora, the BCBA systematically increases the response effort required to earn each reinforcer (i.e. reinforcement after 5 trials, 10 trials, 15 trials, 20 trials, etc.). Madame Behaviora will engage in 12 seance trials for sage, but only 10 seance trials for quartz (10 trials is the breaking point!). Sage is associated with the highest rate of responding, therefore it is the most effective reinforcer.

Data from all three reinforcer assessments have identified

that sage is the stronger reinforcer for Madame Behaviora!

Learn more information about stimulus control, stimulus salience and more with our #TruLiveCrew! Check out our # TruCrew alumni testimonials here!


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2019). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson, p. 116-118.

Mason, S. A., McGee, G. G., Farmer-Dougan, V., & Risley, T. R. (1989). A practical strategy for ongoing reinforcer assessment. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 22(2), 171–179.

Trudy Georgio is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Licensed Behavior Analyst in the state of Texas. She is the founder of Tru Behavior Development, LLC who is motivated by effecting socially significant behavior change and disseminating the science of behavior to the next generation of behavior analysts!

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