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.


43rd Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2017

Event Details

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Symposium #319
CE Offered: BACB
Reinforced Behavioral Variability: Basic Research, Applications, and Theoretical Implications
Sunday, May 28, 2017
5:00 PM–6:50 PM
Hyatt Regency, Centennial Ballroom E
Area: EAB/AUT; Domain: Translational
Chair: Thomas S. Higbee (Utah State University)
Discussant: Christopher A. Podlesnik (Florida Institute of Technology)
CE Instructor: Thomas S. Higbee, Ph.D.

Behavioral variability is often adaptive; however, some individuals, such as individuals with autism, struggle to vary appropriately. Behavioral variability can be maintained using reinforcement and it has been suggested that behavioral variability may be an operant. This symposium includes presentations on basic and applied research on reinforced behavioral variability, as well as discussions of the theoretical implications of this research. The first presentation (Galizio and colleagues) will describe basic research conducted with pigeons investigating persistence and relapse of reinforced behavioral variability. The second presentation (Abreu-Rodrigues and colleagues) will describe basic research conducted with college students investigating the effects of response cost and variability contingencies on choice. The third presentation (Harris and Higbee) will describe applied research investigating variability of play behavior conducted with children with autism. The final presentation (Neuringer) will address the theoretical implications of studying reinforced behavioral variability, as well as the relevance of reinforced behavioral variability to other fields. Directions for translational research will be discussed (Podlesnik). The current presentations will examine reinforced behavioral variability from a variety of perspectives and illustrate the importance of studying reinforced behavioral variability in basic and applied research.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): behavioral variability, operant variability
Persistence and Relapse of Reinforced Behavioral Variability
(Basic Research)
ANNIE GALIZIO (Utah State University), Charles Frye (Utah State University), Jonathan E. Friedel (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), Jeremy Haynes (Utah State University), Amy Odum (Utah State University)
Abstract: Behavioral variability is adaptable, can be maintained with reinforcement, and may be an operant. Three experiments were conducted to examine persistence and relapse of reinforced behavioral variability by testing reinstatement and resurgence. Pigeons emitted four-peck sequences throughout. In Experiment 1, a two-component VARY-YOKE multiple schedule was used. Levels of variability in the variability component decreased in extinction and returned to baseline in reinstatement. In Phases 1 and 2 of Experiment 2, sequences were only reinforced if they started with the right or left key, respectively, and satisfied a variability contingency. Phase 3 involved extinction. Variability remained high throughout the experiment. Pigeons emitted sequences starting with the right and left keys in Phases 1 and 2, respectively. In Phase 3, sequences starting with the right and left keys were emitted equally, consistent with both resurgence or operant variability and extinction-induced variability. Experiment 3 used two groups of pigeons. In Phase 1, either a variability or repeat contingency was in place. In Phase 2, the repeat contingency was in place for all pigeons. Phase 3 involved extinction. Levels of variability in Phase 3 were similar for both groups, consistent with extinction-induced variability. These findings question the extent of operant variability.

Effects of Response Cost and Variation Contingencies Upon Choice

(Basic Research)
JOSELE ABREU RODRIGUES (Universidade de Brasilia), Lívia de Ângeli Silva Penha (Universidade de Brasília), Déborah Lôbo (Universidade de Fortaleza), Letícia Pires (Universidade de Brasília)

The present studies attempted to isolate the effects of response cost and variation requirements upon choice. In Study 1, college students chose between two alternatives. In Experiment 1, sequences had to differ from the previous five ones (VAR contingency) and include two (VAR 2) or five (VAR 5) switches. In Experiment 2, reinforcers were contingent to the emission of a unique sequence (REP contingency) with two (REP 2) or five (REP 5) switches. In Experiment 3, choice was between one vary (VAR 2 or VAR 5) and one repeat (REP 2 or REP 5) contingency. Participants preferred two to five switches under both VAR and REP contingencies (experiments 1 and 2). Preference for the REP alternative (Experiment 3) increased with the number of switches in the VAR alternative. In Study 2, pigeons chose between two alternatives with equal response costs (1 or 2 switches), but differing variation requirements (Lag 2 versus Lag 4, Lag 6 and Lag 8). Choice for the most lenient requirement tended to vary directly with the variation requirement. It was concluded that both response cost and variation contingencies may ascribe aversive properties to variation contexts, thus affecting choice between varying and repeating response sequences.


An Analysis of Variability of Play Behavior With Preschool Children With Autism

(Applied Research)
KATIE ENDICOTT (Utah State University), Thomas S. Higbee (Utah State University)

Unlike typically developing children, children with autism do not vary their play with toys. Instead, they often display repetitive, stereotypical movements. Recent studies in the area of variability have demonstrated that when response variability is treated as a behavioral operant, it can be increased by implementing a reinforcement contingency on a lag schedule. The purpose of this study was to determine whether three preschoolers with autism would vary their play actions when exposed to a lag schedule of reinforcement and physical prompting procedure. A multiple baseline across participants was used to evaluate the effectiveness of a lag schedule and manual prompting procedure on the play behavior of three children with autism. The intervention procedure was used to evaluate response variability while probes were conducted to see if variability generalized to two other similar play sets. All three participants demonstrated varied play actions in the presence of the lag schedule and prompting procedure. When the lag schedule was removed in a 2-week maintenance check, responding remained at high rates but stereotypical patterns of behavior were observed. This indicates a lag schedule and prompting procedure may be effective for evoking varied behavior in play in young children with autism.

Operant Variability in Perspective
Abstract: Response variability is controlled by reinforcers that are directly contingent upon that variability. Research has demonstrated not only precise control over levels of variability but also control by discriminative stimuli, these findings leading to the claim that variability is an operant (reinforceable) dimension of behavior. This talk will focus on the relationship between operant variability and other fields. Research in behavioral neuroscience explores the physiological processes that underlie behavioral variability, including brain loci and events at the level of individual nerves. Research in psychopharmacology shows effects of neurotransmitters and other drugs on variability. Cognitive science research concerns exemplars of concepts and categories, and these demonstrate variability similar to that seen in the operant chamber. Research on learning by developmental psychologists has focused on the importance of controlled variability for development. Similarly, studies of skill acquisition shows that variability is correlated with proficiency. In each of these cases, the ability of individuals to vary levels of variability appears to be an important component of learning and, more generally, of functional behavior. The goal of this talk is to show how research across a variety of fields contributes to an understanding of how variability is controlled and the consequences of such control.



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