Contingency Management

Contingency Management is an evidence-based strategy that involves providing tangible reinforcers such as vouchers, goods, or privileges for reaching concrete targeted behaviors.  It is based on the following principles of Operant Conditioning pioneered by behaviorist B.F. Skinner:

1.       Punishment -  the presentation of an aversive stimuli after a target behavior decreases the frequency of that behavior.

Example – Your boss yells at you (aversive stimuli) for surfing the internet during work (undesired behavior) so you stop surfing at work.

 2.       Positive reinforcement – the presentation of a pleasant stimuli after a target behavior occurs increases the likelihood of that behavior happening again.

Example – When you buy a tank of gas at a certain gas station (desired behavior) you get a free cup of coffee (pleasant stimuli), so you choose that gas station to pump your gas each time.

 3.       Negative reinforcement -  the removal of an aversive stimuli after a desired behavior has occurred increases the likelihood of that behavior.

Example – The only way to get your car to stop beeping at you (aversive stimuli) is to put your seat belt on (desired behavior)

Specifically, Contingency Management focuses on providing positive reinforcement when desired target behaviors occur and withholding reinforcers when desired behaviors do not occur. 

The Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence! (ACE!)

The Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence! (ACE!) at George Mason University conducts collaborative and creative research to assist policy makers and correctional practitioners with using evidence-based practices. 

 JSTEPS: Using Rewards in Justice Treatment Programs: Technology & Contingency Management

Contingency Management interventions use systematic reinforcement with rewards (or punishment) to alter problem behaviors, usually substance use, in offenders. Rewards have been used widely in clinical treatment programs. They have been shown
to successfully change targeted behaviors of substance abusers, including decreasing the number of positive drug tests and increasing treatment attendance. 


The National Institute on Drug Abuse

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of treatment approaches using contingency management (CM) principles, which involve giving patients tangible rewards to reinforce positive behaviors such as abstinence. Studies conducted in both methadone programs and psychosocial counseling treatment programs demonstrate that incentive-based interventions are highly effective in increasing treatment retention and promoting abstinence from drugs.