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 #482
CE Offered: BACB
Behavior Analytic Perspectives on Choice
Monday, May 29, 2017
3:00 PM–4:50 PM
Hyatt Regency, Centennial Ballroom B/C
Area: EAB/PCH; Domain: Translational
Chair: Elizabeth Kyonka (University of New England)
Discussant: Elizabeth Kyonka (University of New England)
CE Instructor: Elizabeth Kyonka, Ph.D.

Choice has a varied history as a topic of research in behavior analysis. To the extent that ?choice? refers to exercising free will, it is incompatible with a determinist philosophy of science. Nevertheless, it is consistently among the most popular topics at this conference and in behavioral journals. It has yielded some of the most significant conceptual and empirical advances in behavior analysis. From factors influencing consumer behavior to the role of impulsive behavior in substance abuse, from mathematical elaborations on the matching law that serve as the foundation for quantitative models of behavior to client preference assessments, few areas of behavior analysis have escaped the influence of choice. In this symposium, four distinguished behavior analysts with different research backgrounds and theoretical orientations present their ideas about the contributions of behavior analysis to the study of choice, and the value of choice as a research topic for behavior analysts. Speakers will discuss what we have accomplished already and offer their thoughts about where the field might go in the future.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): consumer choice, delay discounting, time allocation, treatment outcomes
Choice as Time Allocation
WILLIAM M. BAUM (University of California, Davis)
Abstract: The word “choice” has multiple meanings. In one usage, it is a momentary event, synonymous with “decision.” In that usage, one might speak of “choices.” Another usage considers activities extended in time, roughly synonymous with “preference.” In that usage, one does not pluralize “choice.” The difference between the two may be compared to the difference between weather and climate. As many rainy days may occur in a month, so many choices may occur in a day. As the climate in a place may be rainy, so one’s preference for working may dominate over one’s spending time with family. The latter usage has applied to research on choice as operant behavior. The matching law, suggested by Herrnstein in 1961, has proven useful in laboratory research and also in thinking about behavior in the everyday world. Since time is limited (e.g., to 24 hours a day), activities must compete with one another. In the laboratory, this competition has been studied extensively. In everyday life, competition explains much of human choice, such as so-called “work-life balance.” Since activities are episodic, time spent switches between activities relatively often. Such switches may be equated to momentary choices or decisions.

Choice and its Utility in Applied Behavior Analysis Research and Practice

(Applied Research)
JOEL ERIC RINGDAHL (University of Georgia)

Choice can be readily conceived within behavior analysis as analogous to a concurrent schedule of reinforcement. Thus, choice can be viewed within the scope of basic behavior analysis. In the applied behavior analytic literature and in the practice of applied behavior analysis, choice has a long history as both a procedural detail and an independent variable. Using past data related to preference assessment and current data related to an NIH-funded study on the maintenance of Functional Communication Training intervention effects, the current presentation will review the impact of choice as a procedural detail in applied behavior analysis research and practice. Specifically, the utility of choice in various types of assessment will be documented as a means of designing more effective and long lasting treatments. In addition, the current presentation will discuss the use of choice as an independent variable, or component, in the treatment of severe problem behavior. Specifically, studies related to how incorporating choice into treatment components impacts treatment outcomes will be discussed.

Operant Behavioral Economics and Consumer Choice
DONALD A. HANTULA (Temple University)
Abstract: Economics is concerned with allocation of scarce resources to competing alternatives. Operant psychology is concerned with allocation of responses to competing sources of reinforcement. Behavioral economics is concerned with deviations from classical rational choice models in economics. Operant behavioral economics applies methods and theory from operant psychology to understanding economic choice. Unlike behavioral economics, Operant Behavioral Economics does not attempt to rescue rational choice theory nor does it appeal to various heuristics and biases to explain choice. Instead, Operant Behavioral Economics is arational. Research in the Operant Behavioral Economics of consumer choice is reviewed, highlighting the ways in which economic theory and operant theory can inform one another in explaining how consumers choose.

Using Choice Procedures to Understand Brain Systems of Value

(Basic Research)
SUZANNE H. MITCHELL (Oregon Health & Science University)

Choices between dissimilar items are ubiquitous but how are these decisions made? Researchers are interested in this issue to gain insights into various pathologies, including substance use attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, etc., as well as learn about basic decision-making mechanisms. In all of these disorders, patients show a heightened preference for small, immediate rewards over and larger, later rewards, also known as delay discounting. Studies in rodents examining the neural correlates of these types of choice have used a procedure in which subjects choose between small, immediate rewards and larger, later rewards where the delay to reward increases systematically across trials in a session. This talk will compare this procedure to titrating procedures that are also used in the field. I will present data showing the degree of correlation between the procedures is actually limited, discuss reasons for this mismatch and review the data on the neural bases of delay discounting derived from both types of procedure to identify regions identified by both procedures as well as regions identified by a single procedure.




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