This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 05 table of contents.


A special form of differential reinforcement is differential reinforcement of other behavior, abbreviated DRO. Other behavior basically means any behaviors except the one you want to get rid of. In the behavioral laboratory, DRO is technically defined as "delivery of a reinforcer if a specified time elapses without a designated response." In other words, the animal can do whatever it wants, and as long as it does not do a particular behavior for a certain period of time, it receives a reinforcer.

What is DRO? What are situations in which DRO might be useful?

DRO is used to eliminate a behavior without punishment. Suppose you have a roommate who complains constantly about poor health. You could say, "Stop talking about your health" but that would be rude. So how can you encourage your roommate to stop talking about health? One approach is to use DRO. If the roommate spends a minute without talking about health, you pay attention and act friendly. If the conversation turns to aches and pains, you stop talking. Eventually, if the procedure works, your roommate will stop talking about health problems.

As this example shows, DRO involves extinction of the problem behavior. You cut off reinforcements to the behavior you want to get rid of (extinction) and you reinforce any other behavior (DRO).

How can DRO supplement or replace punishment?

Whenever punishment is used, DRO should be used as well. For example, if you feel you must discipline a child, you should not merely punish the wrong responses, you should positively reinforce correct responses. Most of the time, you can achieve what you want through positive reinforcement alone without any punishment.

Another variation of differential reinforcement is DRL or differential reinforcement of a low rate of behavior. DRL occurs when you reinforce slow or infrequent responses. Psychologists were initially surprised that such a thing as DRL could exist. After all, reinforcement is defined as increasing the rate of behavior. However, many animals can learn a contingency in which responding slowly produces reinforcement.

What is DRL?

A student reports using DRL to deal with a roommate problem:

My experience with my roommate is an example of DRL. My roommate is a wonderful person, but she talks too much. A simple yes or no question receives a "15 minute lecture" answer. She talks constantly. After the psychology lecture on differential reinforcement for a low rate of behavior, I decided to try this method. When I asked her a simple question and received a lengthy answer, I simply ignored her or left the room. When she gave a simple reply, I tried to seem interested and even discussed her answer. Now my roommate talks less and I don't get as aggravated with her. [Author's files]

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