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 #284
PORTL: Your Portal to Learning and Researching Behavior Principles
Sunday, May 28, 2017
3:00 PM–4:50 PM
Convention Center 401/402
Area: TBA/EAB; Domain: Translational
Chair: Jessica Winne (University of North Texas)
Discussant: T. V. Joe Layng (Generategy, LLC)

PORTL, the Portable Operant Research and Teaching Lab, is a table-top shaping game played by two people. In addition to its use as a tool for teaching and inquiry, PORTL offers a convenient and inexpensive apparatus for conducting behavioral research. It can be used to rapidly determine the appropriate baseline and environmental arrangements for asking a variety of research questions. This symposium will describe what is PORTL and how it can be used as a laboratory for teaching, inquiry and research. Then, we will share a sample of research projects that have been conducted using PORTL. These research projects investigated whether reinforcing variability would lead to an increase in novel behaviors, whether participants generated different rules and statements about their emotions on variable-ratio versus fixed-ratio schedules, and the relationship between the frequency of an unwanted behavior and the number of alternative behaviors available during a DRO schedule.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): DRO, laboratory experience, variability, variable-ratio schedule

PORTL and the Skinner Box: An Introduction

(Basic Research)
JESUS ROSALES-RUIZ (University of North Texas), Mary Elizabeth Hunter (The Art and Science of Animal Training)

This presentation will introduce you to a game that can be used to teach behavioral principles, inquire about behavioral phenomena, and conduct research. The game, which is called PORTL (Portable Operant Research and Teaching Lab), is played between two people, the teacher and the learner, using a collection of small objects, a clicker, and tokens. The teacher communicates with the learner entirely through reinforcement. No instructions, prompts, or models are used during the game to direct the learner. The game, which can be played by both children and adults, uses simple, inexpensive equipment and can be played anywhere. This presentation will describe how to use PORTL as a laboratory apparatus for asking questions about behavior. Particular attention will be given to discussing parallels between the Skinner box and PORTL.


Contingencies Generate Both Rules About What to Do and Particular Emotions While Doing it

(Basic Research)
ISABEL L. CUNNINGHAM (University of North Texas), Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (University of North Texas)

In the field of behavior analysis, research with humans looking at schedules of reinforcement suggests that experimenter-imposed or self-imposed rules override any scheduled contingency. Alternatively, another interpretation is that both the performance of the learner and the rules are a product of the contingencies, and one cannot override the other. The goal of the present research was to examine the relation between what people said they were doing to earn reinforcement and how they felt about what they were doing as a function of changes to the schedule of reinforcement. The results show that the rules participants used to describe their performance and how they felt varied with the type of schedule implemented. When variable-ratio schedules were implemented, participants reported varied and unclear rules about what to do to earn reinforcement, along with predominantly feeling confused. When fixed-ratio schedules were implemented, the participants reported clear rules about what to do to earn reinforcement along with feeling predominantly confident. The results also showed that when variable-ratio schedules were implemented, in contrast to fixed-ratio schedules, the participants offered more non-criterion responses.


Performance on DRO Schedules Varies as a Function of Available Alternative Behaviors

(Basic Research)
MARY ELIZABETH HUNTER (The Art and Science of Animal Training), Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (University of North Texas)

Differential reinforcement of other behavior (DRO) schedules are often used by applied behavior analysts as a means to reduce unwanted behavior. DRO schedules have been effective in reducing behavior in humans (e.g., Cowdery et al., 1990) and other species (e.g., Davis and Bitterman, 1971; Fox et al., 2012; Fox and Belding, 2015; Mulick et al., 1976). During the implementation of a DRO, the schedule is gradually leaned, presumably to reinforce longer pauses without the unwanted behavior. Alternatively, unwanted behavior can reduce in frequency because other behavior is accidentally reinforced. However, while the unwanted behavior usually reaches a very low rate, it often does not go completely to zero. This suggests a relationship between the decrease of the unwanted behavior and the increase of alternative behaviors. In this study, college student participants were taught an unwanted behavior that was then placed on a constant DRO schedule with the availability of one, five, or nine alternative behaviors. The results showed that the frequency of the unwanted behavior was directly related to the number of alternative behaviors available.


Reinforcing Variability Produces Stereotypic Behavior

(Basic Research)
ANDREW R. KIETA (University of North Texas), Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (University of North Texas)

Behaving in novel ways is essential to the development of complex performances often described by the terms creativity, problem solving, and perseverance. While it is widely accepted that response variability is an operant dimension of behavior, some researchers have argued against such an interpretation. This study examined the effects of a variability contingency on the cumulative novel responses of undergraduate students. College students interactions with a small object were reinforced according to different contingency requirements. The results showed that when the schedule changed from reinforcement for variability to reinforcement for any response, no novel responding was observed, despite prior reinforcement of variable responding. When variability contingencies were in effect, a novel response was rarely followed directly by another novel response. Instead, novel responses were often followed by repeated emission of the same topography or other previously emitted topographies. As the variability contingency was continued, all participants eventually stopped emitting additional novel responses and often began emitting stereotypic response chains. Each of these findings calls into question the assertion that variability is an operant dimension of behavior.




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