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 #391
Behavioral Persistence: Basic, Translational, and Clinical Studies
Monday, May 29, 2017
8:00 AM–9:50 AM
Hyatt Regency, Centennial Ballroom E
Area: EAB; Domain: Translational
Chair: John A. Nevin (University of New Hampshire)
Discussant: John A. Nevin (University of New Hampshire)
Abstract: Differential Reinforcement for Alternative behavior (DRA) has been strikingly effective in reducing problem behavior in many clinical settings. However, both basic and applied studies have shown that alternative reinforcement may also make problem behavior more persistent and more likely to recur when interventions are interrupted. According to Behavioral Momentum Theory, these counter-therapeutic effects arise because persistence depends on all reinforcers – including alternative reinforcers – obtained within a given stimulus context. This symposium will describe experiments that eliminate or minimize these side effects of alternative reinforcement with pigeons, children with intellectual disabilities, and children exhibiting severe problem behavior in clinical settings. We show that signaling intermittent DRA can reduce the persistence and relapse of target behavior. We also show that arranging DRA in a separate context accessed by refraining from target behavior, an approach adapted from the Contingency Management (CM) paradigm, can also reduce relapse. Both methods may be effective because they isolate alternative reinforcers from the stimulus context in which target or problem behavior has occurred.
Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): alternative reinforcement, persistence, relapse

Signaling Alternative Reinforcers in Multiple Schedules With Varied Reinforcer Rates

(Basic Research)
F. CHARLES MACE (Nova Southeastern University), Andrew R. Craig (Utah State University), Iser Guillermo DeLeon (University of Florida), Timothy A. Shahan (Utah State University), Tara M. Sheehan (Nova Southeastern University)

We describe two experiments evaluating the impact of different reinforcer rates for alternative behavior (DRA) on the suppression and post-intervention relapse of target behavior, and on the persistence of alternative behavior. Both experiments arranged baseline, intervention with extinction of target behavior concurrently with DRA delivered according to signaled VI schedules, and post-intervention tests of resurgence or reinstatement, in two- or three-component multiple schedules. The first experiment, with children exhibiting problem behaviors, arranged an intermediate baseline reinforcer rate and rich or lean signaled DRA in two components with different therapists. During treatment, both rich and lean DRA rapidly reduced problem behavior to low levels, but post-treatment relapse was generally greater in the DRA-rich than the DRA-lean component. The second experiment, with pigeons, repeated the signaled DRA conditions after baseline training. Target behavior decreased to low/intermediate levels in both DRA-rich and DRA-lean components. Post-treatment relapse was directly related to DRA reinforcer rate as in the preceding study with children. In both experiments, the persistence of alternative behavior was either the same or greater in the component with the leaner signaled DRA schedule. Thus, the findings of clinical application with children and the reverse translation to pigeons converge to suggest that infrequent signaled DRA may be optimal for effective clinical treatment, and raise questions for basic research about the role of the signals in diminishing the effects of alternative reinforcement on target behavior.

Examining Relapse in an Animal Analog of Contingency Management
(Basic Research)
TIMOTHY A. SHAHAN (Utah State University), Andrew R. Craig (Utah State University), Paul Cunningham (Utah State University), Maggie Sweeney (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)
Abstract: Behavioral momentum theory suggests delivery of alternative reinforcers in the presence of stimuli previously associated with reinforcement of a target behavior contribute to relapse. This experiment examined whether relapse might be reduced with an analog contingency-management (i.e., CM) procedure in which withholding target behavior earned access to a separate context associated with alternative reinforcement. In Phase 1, pigeons’ target behavior was reinforced equally in two components of a multiple schedule. In Phase 2, target behavior was extinguished, and the components arranged different differential-reinforcement-of-alternative-behavior (DRA) treatments. In the CM-DRA component, target behavior was placed on extinction and fulfilling a differential-reinforcement-of-other-behavior contingency produced a separate context in which an alternative behavior was reinforced. In the Standard-DRA component, alternative behavior was reinforced in the same context in which target behavior was extinguished. Alterative reinforcement was suspended for both components in Phase 3 to test for resurgence. Increases in target behavior were small and variable in both components, with some evidence of reduced resurgence in the CM-DRA. In Phase 4, reinstatement was examined by delivering response-independent reinforcers. Reinstatement was greater in the Standard-DRA component than in the CM-DRA component. Thus, the CM-DRA treatment shows promise as a means to reduce relapse following DRA.
Behavioral Persistence in a Human Laboratory Model of the Contingency Management Paradigm
(Basic Research)
WILLIAM V. DUBE (E.K. Shriver Center at University of Massachusetts Medical School), Brooks Thompson (University of Massachusetts Medical School - Shriver Center), Marcelo Vitor da Silveira (Universidade Federal de São Carlos)
Abstract: Behavioral momentum theory posits a paradoxical implication for clinical behavioral interventions using Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA): When alternative reinforcers are presented within the same context as the problem behavior, the added reinforcers may decrease the frequency of the behavior but also increase its persistence when the intervention ends. A Contingency Management (CM) treatment paradigm may avoid or reduce this outcome because it provides alternative reinforcement in a setting that is distinctively different from that in which the target behavior occurs. The present experiment compared DRA and CM procedures in a human laboratory model of treatment intervention using computer games and token reinforcement. Participants were five individuals with intellectual disabilities. Experimental phases included (a) an initial multiple-schedule baseline, (b) an intervention phase with alternative reinforcement using a DRA versus CM procedure, (c) an extinction phase with no interventions or tokens, and for some participants (d) a second extinction-plus-distraction test with leisure items available. Behavioral persistence in extinction was greater for DRA than for CM in the majority of measures, although there was variability across participants and some differences were small. The results indicate that a CM approach may contribute to reduced post-intervention persistence of problem behavior.
Applying the CM Paradigm to Children’s Problem Behavior Using Multiple-Schedule and Successive-Conditions Designs
(Applied Research)
TARA M. SHEEHAN (Nova Southeastern University), William H. Ahearn (New England Center for Children), Iser Guillermo DeLeon (University of Florida), John Clark (New England Center for Children), F. Charles Mace (Nova Southeastern University)
Abstract: The CM paradigm may offer clinical benefits when designing treatments for problem behavior in children with developmental disabilities. To evaluate the use of the CM paradigm we arranged treatments for problem behavior with subsequent tests of persistence and recovery for two children exhibiting aggressive and disruptive behaviors. In addition to aggression and disruption, one of the participants also engaged in self-injurious behaviors of throat poking and pulling on his gastronomy tube. With one participant, the CM paradigm was compared with conventional DRA in multiple-schedule components, with alternative reinforcer rates yoked between components. With the other participant, the CM paradigm and conventional DRA were explored in successive conditions. The results suggest that the addition of a DRO contingency to a standard DRA treatment arrangement and the delivery of alternative reinforcers in a separate context may combine to make problem behavior less persistent. Clinical implications regarding the application of the CM paradigm to children’s problem behavior will be discussed.



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