Practitioners who work in group settings know how difficult it can be to provide realistic reinforcement systems on an individual basis. Although very beneficial, individual reinforcement systems can require a lot of time and resources for application and may become extremely ineffective if not utilized correctly. Another option that may be more realistic for practitioners, yet still produce behavior change, is group contingencies. Let’s discuss the basics of the three different types of group contingencies and tips on how to make them more effective.
Group contingencies are defined as an expectation that is applied to an entire group of individuals and the reinforcement or reward is provided based on the behavior of one member of the group, part of the group, or the entire group.
An independent group contingency is one in which reinforcement is provided to everyone in the group who meets behavioral criteria (E.g. each individual who completes their worksheet before recess will be able to go outside).
A dependent group contingency is one in which the entire group will receive reinforcement contingent on the behavior of one individual (or small group of individuals from the larger group).
An interdependent group contingency is one in which everyone in the group will receive reinforcement if everyone in the group meets the behavioral criteria.
When applied in research, group contingencies have demonstrated several advantages to the practitioner. For example, it provides ease in application that utilizes fewer resources. Also, it may promote positive social interactions and peer influence. This can be established all while being able to produce behavior change.
Brantley and Webster (1993) utilized an independent group contingency in the form of a public checkmark system to reinforce appropriate classroom behavior from a group of fourth-grade students. Marks were added and used to be traded in for preferred items/activities. Checkmarks on a board were easy to administer for a teacher with a classroom of 25 students, and as a result, the teacher saw a decrease in off-task behavior by 70%. A dependent and interdependent group contingency can also promote peer influence. When access to reinforcement is contingent on the performance of an individual, or the entire group of individuals, peers may work together to promote a change in behavior.
When administering group contingencies, like individual contingencies, there are factors that can help to increase effectiveness. For example, changes in behavior will be more likely if motivating reinforcement is used. Checkmarks or tokens can also be used in exchange for individual preferences. Another way to make the system more effective is to have a clear definition of the expected behavior. It is important to be able to clearly identify when expectations are being met, especially if it based on the performance of an entire group. And as always, continue to monitor the use of group contingencies. If necessary, changes to reinforcement availability or defined expectations may need to be changed based on progress.
Brantley, C. D., & Webster, R. E. (1993). Use of an independent group contingency management system in a regular classroom setting. Psychology in the Schools, 30, 60-66.
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis(2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill Prentice Hall.