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Group Contingencies

In my grade 5 classroom, my teacher had a poster on the wall that said the classroom was about interdependence not independence, with the symbol of a yin-yang. He taught martial arts, did competitions, and was an overall active person. I had no idea what that meant – was that a spelling mistake? Was it something specifically related to martial arts? It would be many years before I knew the importance and distinction of those different group contingencies.

What is a Group Contingency?

A group contingency is an arrangement with pre-determined criteria and consequence or reinforcement for some or all participants in the group. The criteria for a group to attain reinforcement may depend on the behaviour of one, some, or all the participants, depending on the type of group contingency chosen.

Why use Group Contingencies?

Group contingencies can be used in many settings like the classroom, dojo, or workplace. The use of a group contingency can help promote teamwork and cooperation amongst the members of the group. Next time you are teaching small groups, school readiness programs, or social skills groups, consider including a group contingency for your learners.

Different Types of Group Contingencies

There are three types of group contingencies:

Independent Group Contingency

In an independent group contingency, the same consequence (or reinforcement) is delivered to participants who reach the pre-determined criteria, independent of if others in the group reach the criteria.

If you work in sales with a tiered commission framework, each employee has the opportunity to reach pre-determined criteria to receive x% of sales. Each employee who reaches the quota will earn the bonus.

Dependent Group Contingency

In a dependent group contingency, the same consequence (or reinforcement) is delivered to all participants in the group, based on the performance of one or a select few participants in the group.

In a dependent group contingency, the individual (or select few participants) the target behaviour is focused on can be kept a secret, as well as what the pre-determined criteria is. Alternatively, the group can know what the target behaviour, pre-determined criteria, and select individuals are.

To encourage more consistent running habits, a running club has members track their total monthly distance ran using fitness tracking apps. The names of selected members to meet the pre-determined running criteria are pulled from a hat and kept a secret, to encourage all members to increase their total distance completed. At the end of the month, if the selected members meet the distance goal for the month, the entire running club gets a lunch and party in the park.

Interdependent Group Contingency

In an interdependent group contingency, the same consequence (or reinforcement) is delivered to each participant in the group, based on the performance of all participants in the group as a whole (or as an average).

In the classroom, if the class average for a test is above the pre-determined criteria (85% or higher), the entire class can have extra recess time.

Group Contingency Pros and Cons

For each type of group contingency, there are pros and cons associated with each. The three types of contingencies are great, but all have a time and place for being the most effective tool in the toolbox.

Independent Group Contingency

Your hard work pays off
You do not need to rely on others to help you achieve your goals
Others slacking will not interfere with your progress
People are less likely to help others do better
Focus is on themselves to reach their goal
Less teamwork and cooperation between members

Dependent Group Contingency

If no one knows who the contingency is based on, they are all likely to do their best
If others know who the contingency is based on, they can help support that individual reach the goal so everyone wins
The chosen individual feels like a hero
If others know who the contingency is based on, the others may not try as hard because their effort may not matter as much
If others know who the contingency is based on, there may be pressure to do more They may be bullied or excluded if they do not reach criteria

Interdependent Group Contingency

People are more likely to help each other as the success of the group effects everyone (students may tutor each other)
If it is known that certain individuals bring down the average, they can be bullied or excluded

Watch our YouTube video on how to move from 1:1 ABA to a group setting!

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