Everyday, I help break down a confusing ABA term and put it in plain English! Whether you are studying for your BCBA exam, explaining ABA to parents or are a student, there is no reason to be so confused over ABA terms. While “behavioral language” is very confusing, these concepts don’t have to be.

Today we will break down group contingencies: 

There are three types of group contingencies: interdependent group contingency
(a.k.a. hero procedure), independent group contingency and dependent group contingencies.

Let’s explore each:

Interdependent Group Contingency

According to Cooper, Heron and Heward, an interdependent group contingency is. A contingency in which reinforcement for all members of a group is dependent on each member of the group meeting a performance criterion that is in effect for all members of the group.”

Simply put, this means that in order for a group to be rewarded, every member of the group must meet a certain criteria. If  everyone meets that criteria the group is rewarded. If even one person does not hit the criteria, nobody in the group is rewarded.

Example 1 of interdependent group contingency: 

A business owner is trying to get his sales team to hit their quota. Month after month, they are slightly under. In order to incentivize the group, he says that if everyone in the group hits their individual quota, the entire group will get a $100 bonus. If anyone in the group does not meet the quota, nobody in the group will get the bonus.

Example 2 of interdependent group contingency: 

A soccer coach is having a problem with several members of his team fouling out of the game for being too rough with the opposing team. He tells his team that if nobody in the game fouls out, he will take the entire team for ice cream but if even one person fouls out, nobody gets ice cream. 

Example 3 of interdependent group contingency: 

A teacher is going away for a week and is very nervous about having a substitute teacher in her room because her students will often play pranks on new teachers. Last time, a group of students hid the teacher’s iphone in a roll of toilet paper in the principal’s bathroom. The teacher says that if nobody plays any pranks all week, then they can have a pizza party when she gets back.

Independent Group Contingency

According to Cooper, Heron and Heward, an  independent group contingency is, A contingency in which reinforcement for each member of a group is dependent on that person’s meeting a performance criterion that is in effect for all members of the group.”

Simply put, an independent group contingency is when everyone in the group has an opportunity to earn a reward and nobody else’s behavior matters.  Whether or not you earn a reward depends only on your performance and is not affected in any way by the performance of anyone else. 

This is the most commonly used form of group contingency 

Example 1 of independent group contingency: 

A teacher is struggling with students turning in their homework. In order to promote her students turning in their homework, she offered a homework pass on Friday afternoon to everyone who turned in their homework every day that week. 

Example 2 of independent group contingency: 

A network marketing company puts out a promotion that anyone who enrolls five people or more that month in their business will get a free box of chocolate. 

Example 3 of independent group contingency: 

A teacher is collecting cans to raise money for a charity that is important to her. She offers a stick of gum to any student who brings a bag of cans to be donated. 

Dependent Group Contingency

According to Cooper, Heron and Heward, a Dependent Group Contingency is,A contingency in which reinforcement for all members of a group is dependent on the behavior of one member of the group or the behavior of a select group of members within the larger group.”

Simply put, a dependent group contingency is when an entire group gets rewarded when one person or a small group of people hits a goal. This is known as the hero procedure because one person is the hero for the entire group. If that person hits the criteria specified, the whole group is rewarded and if the person missed the criteria, nobody in the group is rewarded. 

You would use this when most people in the group are hitting the goal but there is one person or a small group of people who are not hitting the goal. The point of this is that if the entire group is dependent on them, it will increase their motivation to perform.

A risk of using this in real practice is it can cause tension between that person and the small group if they do not hit the criteria. This is especially true in a school setting among kids. Imagine the bullying a child may receive if an entire class does not get to have recess because of their performance. 

As a result, this is not often used in practice. It is a procedure in which I would personally not ever use in practice. 

Example 1 of dependent group contingency: 

Marsha attends tutoring sessions. At the tutoring sessions, the class is constantly asking for a webinar on test taking strategies. Marsha regularly does not show up to tutoring sessions because she is addicted to Downton Abbey. Jessica, the BCBA wants to promote Marsha attending tutoring so she tells the group that if Marsha attends at least 4 tutoring sessions that week, next week she will do a webinar on test taking strategies for the whole group. 

Example 2 of dependent group contingency: 

Timothy is frequently calling out in class and it is very disruptive. Timothy is well liked by his peers and the BCBA determined that Timothy calls out to get attention and approval from his peers. The BCBA recommends that the teacher offers a free homework pass to the entire class if Timothy can go an entire day without calling out.

Example 3 of dependent group contingency: 

Susan is very strong in sales. She is the best sales person on her sales team. The team recognizes that Susan is not performing at her highest potential since she is already out performing her team. Her supervisor decides that if Susan can increase her sales by forty percent for the next month, the entire team will receive a $500 bonus. 


APA Citation: Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2019). Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd Edition). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education.

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