Guest blog post by Dr. Katherine May, Ed.D, BCBA

Compound Schedules of Reinforcement: Defined and Applied

In Applied Behavior Analysis practitioners can combine two or more basic schedules of reinforcement to form compound schedules of reinforcement. These schedules consist of continuous reinforcement, intermittent schedules of reinforcement, differential reinforcement of various rates of responding and extinction. It is important to note that basic compound schedules can occur simultaneously or successively and can occur with or without an SD.

There are various types of compound schedules of reinforcement, continue reading below to find out more:

Multiple Schedule of Reinforcement: This is when there are two or more schedules of reinforcement for one behavior that are each presented with different discriminative stimuli. For example a third grade kiddo, Jake, was working on his multiplication facts. When he worked with his math teacher he was required to get 12/20 multiplication facts correct to receive reinforcement but when he was working with his math tutor he had  to get 17/20 correct to receive reinforcement. Therefore; the schedule of reinforcement was dependent on which person he was working with (the SD). He could either get reinforcement on an FR 12 or FR 17 schedule based on which SD was present.

Mixed Schedule of Reinforcement: This is when two or more schedules of reinforcement for one behavior are each presented without any discriminative stimulus. Therefore; the reinforcement is delivered in a random order in which the client does not know when they will be reinforced. This maintains that the client’s behavior will continue to occur at a high rate. For example, Leslie was working on eating her vegetables with the BCBA, Thomas. Leslie sometimes received reinforcement for eating a spoon full of vegetables, she sometimes received reinforcement for taking 5 bites of her vegetables. The kiddo does not know which schedule of reinforcement is in effect at any given time so her behavior will continue to occur at a high rate.

Chained Schedule of Reinforcement: This compound schedule of reinforcement has two or more basic schedule requirements that occur successively, and have a discriminative stimulus correlated with each schedule. This schedule always occurs in a specific order and the first behavior expectation serves as a discriminative stimulus for the next behavior expectation, and so on, For example, when my recipe box gets delivered to my house every Tuesday, I follow the recipe card (the SD) placing one ingredient in the pot after the next in the specific order that the recipe card demonstrates. In addition, I complete this chain in about 20-30 minutes.

Tandem Schedule of Reinforcement: This compound schedule of reinforcement is the same exact reinforcement schedule as chained however; there is no discriminative stimulus associated with it. Therefore; there is no specific order associated with this schedule. For example, the following week I received my recipe box and this time they forgot to include the recipe card. I am left to figure out the recipe myself. I still have to put the food in the pot in some order to cook the food, just not a specific order. In addition, I complete this recipe in about 20-25 minutes. The trick with tandem schedules of reinforcement is that the behaviors still occur in an order; however it can be ANY order rather than a specified order.

Concurrent Schedule of Reinforcement: This compound schedule of reinforcement consists of two or more schedules of reinforcement, each with a correlated discriminative stimulus, operating independently and simultaneously for two or more behaviors. Concurrent schedules of reinforcement allow the client to have a choice which is essentially governed by the matching law. The matching law states that “behavior goes where reinforcement flows.” This means that the schedule associated with the stronger reinforcement will occasion the behavior to engage in that schedule of reinforcement. For example, if I offer my client the reinforcement of getting a half hour of video game playing if he sits with me in the lunchroom, or an hour of video game playing if he socializes and sits with his peers in the lunchroom (terminal behavior), my client is going to choose to socialize and sit with his peers (even if this is not his preferred activity) because he wants to engage in the behavior that will grant him the stronger reinforcer (1 hour of video games vs. a ½ hour).

Conjunctive Schedule of Reinforcement: This compound schedule of reinforcement is when reinforcement follows the completion of two or more simultaneous schedules of reinforcement. For example, little Nancy must work on her math homework for five minutes and get 10 questions correct in order to receive reinforcement.

Alternative Schedule of Reinforcement: This compound schedule of reinforcement is when reinforcement follows the completion of either or schedule. This schedule consists of two or more simultaneously available component schedules. the client will receive reinforcement when they reach the criterion for either schedule of reinforcement. For example, a client of mine is currently working on an alternative schedule where he can either work quietly in his seat for five minutes, or he can complete five math problems. He receives reinforcement contingent on reaching the criterion for either one; it does not matter which schedule he meets as long as he meets one or the other. The first one completed provides reinforcement, regardless of which schedule component is met first.

Adjunctive Behaviors (schedule-induced behaviors): Behaviors that come about when compound schedules of reinforcement are in place. These behaviors come about when reinforcement is not likely to be delivered. When a kiddo is waiting to get reinforced they fill-in their time with another irrelevant behavior. So in the meantime he/she might doodle on their pad or pop her bubble gum. These are considered time-filling or schedule-induced  behaviors.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd Edition). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education.

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