Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Treatment of Escape-Maintained Behavior with Positive Reinforcement: The Role of Reinforcement Contingency and Density

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Treatment of Escape-Maintained Behavior with Positive Reinforcement: The Role of Reinforcement Contingency and Density

Article excerpt


Functional analyses suggested that the disruptive behavior of three preschool children was maintained by escape from demands. While keeping the escape contingency intact, we conducted (a) a density analysis in which the children earned preferred items for task completion according to two schedules that varied in reinforcement density, and (b) a contingency analysis in which preferred items were delivered either contingent on task completion or provided noncontingently. Edible delivery (regardless of density or contingency) without escape extinction resulted in clinically significant decreases in the disruptive behavior of one child, and consistent but non-clinically significant reductions for a second child. An increase in compliance was observed for all three children. No effects of reinforcement density were detected at the parameters manipulated in this study, and no differences were observed between contingent and noncontingent reinforcement conditions. Escape extinction was eventually implemented with two children, and was effective with one of them. Additional interventions (instructional fading and embedding) were required to reduce the remaining child's rate of disruptive behavior. Our results suggest that noncontingent delivery of preferred items may be effective in decreasing escape-maintained behavior and promoting compliance for some children.

DESCRIPTORS: compliance, disruptive behavior, escape-maintained behavior, noncontingent reinforcement, preschool children, reinforcement density, reinforcement contingency


Instruction-related disruptive behavior (e.g., tantrums, stereotypic behavior, aggression, and noncompliance) is a fairly common problem that may interfere with the acquisition of desirable behavior. Carr, Taylor, and Robinson (1991) found that teachers were less likely to instruct children who had demand-related behavior problems compared with children who did not display such behaviors. Problem behavior may prevent learning because it interferes with observation of relevant stimulus dimensions and other desirable responses that might otherwise be reinforced (Hixson, 2004). A comprehensive review of the functional analysis literature (Hanley, Iwata, & McCord, 2003), as well as summaries of numerous individual cases (e.g., Iwata, Pace, Dorsey, et al., 1994) have shown that escape from demands is a common maintaining consequence for varying topographies of problem behavior (e.g., self-injury, aggression, disruption, inappropriate vocalizations). Descriptive studies have also demonstrated patterns consistent with control via negative reinforcement with developmentally disabled adults (Thompson & Iwata, 2001), as well as typically and atypically developing preschoolers (McKerchar & Thompson, 2004). Considering the prevalence and risk factors associated with escape-maintained problem behavior, the importance of effective treatments is undeniable.

A common treatment for escape-maintained behavior is escape extinction, in which the contingency between problem behavior and the negatively reinforcing consequence is removed by not providing or preventing escape from demands when problem behavior occurs (Iwata, Pace, Cowdery, & Miltenberger, 1994; Iwata, Pace, Kalsher, Cowdery, & Cataldo, 1990). Procedurally, escape extinction often entails the continued presentation of prompting (e.g., instructions, modeling, physical guidance; Iwata et al., 1990). In situations in which modeling and physical prompting are ineffective or nonpreferred, escape extinction may take the form of continued presentation of the initial task demand until compliance occurs (e.g., Piazza, Patel, Gulotta, Sevin, & Layer, 2003). Escape extinction is typically implemented in combination with differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA). DRA often involves the presentation of the reinforcer that has been shown to maintain the problem behavior contingent on an alternative response. …

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