Topic Tuesday: Preference Assessment

What is a preference assessment?

A preference assessment is a tool to help determine the hierarchy of potential reinforcers for an individual.  The assessment is typically conducted with items that are moderately to highly preferred and helps to determine which are the most highly preferred items and the least preferred items. 

Why conduct a preference assessment?

Identifying this hierarchy is important for any behavior change to occur.  This is the first step in identifying potent reinforcers for an individual in order to increase the likelihood of behaviors occurring in the future.  It is important to understand that what is reinforcing to one individual, may not be reinforcing to another.  For example, one individual may be reinforced by social praise, while another may be reinforced by gaining access to a particular item.  You can conduct preference assessments frequently (before each instruction) or less frequently (once per day or per week), however it is important to conduct them more frequently for individuals whose interests/preferences may change more frequently.

How to conduct a preference assessment 

There are several different methods to conducting a preference assessment.  For some individuals, you may be able to simply ask them what they would like to work for.  For other individuals who may have less communication skills or restricted interests, it may be necessary to use a more systematic approach.  Below is a list of 5 direct measured preference assessments that may be used. 

  • Multiple Stimulus without Replacement (MSWO) Preference Assessment
  • Multiple Stimulus with Replacement (MSW) Preference Assessment
  • Paired Stimulus Preference Assessment
  • Single Stimulus Preference Assessment
  • Free Operant Observations

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