Ratio Strain

Ratio strain is a term used to describe a situation in which the required amount of work, or response, no longer produces the desired behaviors that were previously produced by lower requirements.

Let’s look at a ratio strain example. You give your daughter $5 for cleaning her room. She does a great job of organizing her belongings and is highly motivated by the $5 reward. Using positive reinforcement is a success. A month later, you pay her the same amount for cleaning her room and your bedroom as well. She agrees to this change and does the work. In the third month, you require her to clean her room, your room, plus the kitchen. She decides she doesn’t care anymore and would rather not have the $5 you would like to give her.

You and your child may experience ratio strain when:

  • a behavior requirement increases too quickly
  • the reward does not increase enough to make additional behavioral requests or work seem worth the effort
  • there is an increase in emotional behavior, as increased behavioral expectations outweigh positive reinforcement

To avoid ratio strain, it is important to plan for gradual changes in behavior. If you note a decrease in the effectiveness of a reward, it may be time to adjust behavioral expectations or increase positive reinforcements to keep your child motivated. When setting behavioral goals, an awareness of ratio strain is the simplest way to prevent it from becoming a problem.

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