Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Stimulus Properties of the Differential-Reinforcement-of-Not-Responding Schedule

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Stimulus Properties of the Differential-Reinforcement-of-Not-Responding Schedule

Article excerpt

Techniques for reducing or eliminating unwanted behaviors must exhibit four characteristics to be considered viable (Walters & Grusec, 1977). (1) They must reduce responding swiftly and completely. (2) They should not produce unintended or undesirable side effects. (3) They should be effective over a wide range of behaviors. (4) Response reduction must persist after the procedure has been discontinued. In addition, response reduction techniques should not necessarily require suspension of the contingencies responsible for the unwanted behavior, because these sources often are difficult to identify and hard, if not impossible, to suspend even if they are found.

No existing response reduction technique satisfies all of these criteria. One promising alternative is the differential-reinforcement-of-not-responding (DRO) schedule. This procedure reduces responding by reinforcing the absence of the unwanted behavior. It can rapidly and completely reduce unwanted responding in both laboratory and applied settings (see Hile & Vatterott, 1992; Homer & Peterson, 1980; O'Brien & Repp, 1990; and Poling & Ryan, 1982 for reviews). It typically does not produce unwanted side effects (Homer & Peterson, 1980; O'Brien & Repp, 1990). However, aggression can occur under some circumstances (Lepper & Greene, 1978; O'Brien & Repp, 1990; Poling & Ryan, 1982). The procedure has been used effectively in several different species to eliminate a wide range of responses (Hile & Vatterott, 1992; Homer & Peterson, 1980; O'Brien & Repp, 1990; Poling & Ryan, 1982; Topping & Ford, 1974; Topping, Graves, & Moss, 1975). The schedule can eliminate the unwanted response even if the target behavior continues to produce positive consequences (Picker, Poling, & Parker, 1979; Zeiler, 1976, 1977, 1979; Zeiler & Solano N., 1982).

However, the DRO schedule has not satisfied the durability criterion. The unwanted response returns as soon as the DRO schedule is discontinued in laboratory preparations (Topping & Larmi, 1973; Zeiler, 1976, 1979) and returns in many applied settings. O'Brien and Repp (1990) report that only 22% of applied DRO studies have included maintenance data and that those studies show clear evidence for a loss of response reduction in maintenance. A procedure that suppresses responding only while it is in effect has limited practical use, because it entails continuous maintenance. An acceptable procedure must reduce responding both while it is in effect and after it has been discontinued.

Several clinical case studies have reported durable response suppression following a DRO procedure (e.g., McKeegan, Estill, & Campbell, 1987; Sisson, Van Hasselt, Hersen, & Aurand, 1988; Smith, 1987; Vollmer, Iwata, Smith, & Rodgers, 1992). Successful applications have tended to involve a complex set of manipulations. They have attempted to (a) reduce the motivation underlying the unwanted response through time-out, physical restraint, and overcorrection, (b) reduce the client's exposure to stimulus conditions associated with the unwanted response, (c) increase desired behaviors to high levels, (d) select relatively more powerful reinforcers for the desirable response, and (e) choose desirable responses that are likely to be maintained by natural contingencies. It is not obvious, however, which aspect of these procedures are responsible for the durable response reduction. Although it is essential to be able to identify conditions that can produce durable response elimination, it is equally important to be able to identify how the manipulations produce the effect.

The goal of the present research was to determine which additional manipulations might be added to a traditional DRO schedule to produce durable response elimination in the laboratory. Our research started with a typical fading DRO schedule and added components to it until durable response elimination resulted. …

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