Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


34th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2008

Event Details

Previous Page


Symposium #242
Behavioral Momentum Theory: 25 Years
Sunday, May 25, 2008
2:30 PM–3:50 PM
Area: EAB/TPC; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Christopher A Podlesnik (Utah State University)
Discussant: John A. Nevin (University of New Hampshire)
Abstract: Behavioral momentum theory was introduced in 1983 by Nevin and colleagues (Nevin, Mandell, & Atak, 1983). It provides a quantitative theory that describes how the persistence of behavior in the face of disruption is analogous to the change in velocity of a moving body when perturbed by an outside force. As velocity and mass are separable aspects in physics, behavioral momentum theory suggests that resistance to change and response rates are separable aspects of behavior. The purpose of the present symposium is to present recent research extending the behavioral momentum framework. First, Grace will review some previous studies and present data on behavioral contrast and resistance to change. Podlesnik and Shahan will report a study showing that stimulus contexts presenting higher reinforcement rates enhance relative resistance to disruption and extend those effects to the recovery of responding. Dube and Ahearn will review a number of translational studies extending the behavioral momentum framework to the behavior of humans with developmental disabilities across a range of experimental and applied contexts. Finally, Nevin will act as the discussant to comment on these papers and behavioral momentum theory in general.
Resistance to Change, Contrast and Stimulus Value: A Continuing Dilemma.
RANDOLPH C. GRACE (University of Canterbury)
Abstract: Contrast effects are among the most widely-studied phenomena in learning and conditioning and underscore the importance of reinforcement context as a determiner of behavior. Does resistance to change vary with reinforcement context, and if so, under what conditions? I will review the contradictory and somewhat perplexing results that have been reported in the literature (e.g., Nevin, 1992; Nevin & Grace, 1999; Grace, Nevin, & McLean, 2003), as well as presenting some new data. Comparisons will be made between results from studies on resistance to change and investigations of within-trial contrast by Zentall and others, in an attempt to identify conditions under which stimulus value, as measured by transfer tests, depends on reinforcement context.
Resistance to Change and Response Recovery.
CHRISTOPHER A PODLESNIK (Utah State University), Timothy A. Shahan (Utah State University)
Abstract: Consistent with behavioral momentum theory, the persistence of behavior during conditions of disruption typically has been greater in stimulus contexts presenting higher rates or greater magnitudes of reinforcement during training. The present series of experiments examined whether the recovery of responding from low rates also is a function of the training conditions of reinforcement. Across several experiments, different rates or magnitudes of reinforcement were presented in two components of a multiple schedule. Next, target responding was extinguished in both components. Responding tended to be more resistant to disruption relative to baseline response rates in the component presenting a higher rate or larger magnitude of reinforcement. Once target responding reached low rates in both components, response-recovery procedures were used to re-initiate responding in both components. Similar to resistance to change, responding recovered to a greater extent relative to baseline in components presenting higher rates or larger magnitudes of reinforcement. These findings suggest that behavioral momentum theory might be applicable to understanding both the persistence and recovery of discriminated operant behavior.
Behavioral Momentum Research in Developmental Disabilities.
WILLIAM V. DUBE (University of Massachusetts Medical School Shriver Center), William H. Ahearn (The New England Center for Children)
Abstract: This paper will present an overview of translational behavioral momentum research with humans who have developmental disabilities. The review will focus on nine studies that first established a baseline with alternating conditions of relatively higher and lower reinforcer rates, and then superimposed a disrupter across both baseline conditions. Settings include the laboratory with computer-presented stimuli, analogue environments for functional analysis of problem behavior, and applied settings such as the classroom or residence. Results show that relative resistance to change is consistent with the predictions of behavioral momentum theory, but variability increases from the laboratory to applied settings. Results to date indicate that differences in relative aggregate rates of reinforcement should be considered in the design of special-educational programs or behavior-management interventions in which behavioral persistence is important.



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh