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Matching Law In ABA Therapy: Definitive Guide

The Matching Law is a principle of behavior where behavior is specified to happen in tune with the reinforcement that's provided for every behavior.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 15, 2023
min read

What is the matching law in ABA?

The Matching Law is a principle of behavior where behavior is specified to happen in tune with the reinforcement that's provided for every behavior.

When there exists more than one schedule, a therapist will show a preference for the behavior that provides them the greatest level of reinforcement. Such relationships are tallied by using mathematical formulas.

By using Matching Law, more than one schedule can be handled to better assist in influencing behavior in patients. This implementation is helpful when a schedule of reinforcement is outside of the control of therapists, or when negative results should be avoided.

Through a raise of magnitude in reinforcement for a preferred behavior, the therapist can boost the chances of said behavior taking place instead of the other forms of behavior.

Yet to take advantage of Matching Law with better effectiveness, an understanding of concurrent schedules is needed, as are reinforcer magnitudes.

Concurrent schedules happen when more than one basic schedule of reinforcement is simultaneously present for two or greater different behaviors.

Such schedules must work separately from the next. The patient can then be administered reinforcement for two of the behaviors. Still, the reinforcement isn't the same in size or significance.

How it relates to ABA therapy

ABA therapy allows researchers to learn new ideas regarding the behavior of people. Using this info in real-world instances is something that therapists do on a regular basis. 

Such professionals do research into learning about impactful interventions for the people they work for. However, this can lead to disappointment when such interventions don't properly link up with the research that's been done.

Sometimes, what works in an environment that's controlled can be troublesome or invalid within a setting where it's applied. As such its implementation could be changed by therapists for a more suitable intervention, which then ends with results that branch off.

Examples of matching law

In the first example, a teacher works with a mother who has a five-year-old son. The teacher helps the son to pinpoint aggression to his other brothers as the behavior that must be reduced.

By using indirect and direct assessment, the teacher can identify the attention of the child and his brothers as the cause of the aggression. While the teacher understands holding back attention after the aggression can result in a fast reduction in the behavior, they make note of the parents won't ignore the behavior.

Therefore, an extinction burst would probably be unwanted. The teacher then decides to create a schedule of reinforcement by:

1. Waiting for one of the brothers to show aggression. When he hits or strikes his other brothers, The first brother tells him that it hurts, and not to hit him again. All three of them leave the area.

2. One brother uses words to ask for his other siblings to give him attention. When one of the brothers does, the third provides great attention by tickling him, giving a handshake, or hug. This happens for about two minutes regardless of whether it's disruptive to something else they're doing.

Giving the brothers a certain way to react to the first brother's aggression beats the other difficulties by allowing the teacher to make a reaction without much thought. It also lowers worries about an extinction burst happening. At the same time, the brothers are shown easy-to-understand directions, regardless of their behavior.

Why is the Matching Law Important?

The Matching Law is important because it allows therapists, teachers, and parents, to pinpoint replacement behavior. At the same time, every existing variable that maintains the behavior is identified as well.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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