Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

The Effects of Varying Quality and Duration of Reinforcement on Mands to Work, Mands for Break, and Problem Behavior

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

The Effects of Varying Quality and Duration of Reinforcement on Mands to Work, Mands for Break, and Problem Behavior

Article excerpt

Abstract

Research on the effects of concurrent schedules of reinforcement during treatment of problem behavior has shown that response allocation can be biased in favor of adaptive responses by providing increased reinforcement for these responses. However, this research has focused on the effects of only two concurrently available response options. In applied situations, it is likely that more than two concurrently available response options exist. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of varying qualities and durations of reinforcement on problem behavior, mands for breaks, and mands to work. Participants were 5 to 12 years old, had disabilities, and displayed escape-motivated problem behavior. Results showed that all participants' responding was sensitive to changes in quality and duration of reinforcement. That is, participants allocated responding to the response that produced the highest quality and longest duration of reinforcement. These results are consistent with previous literature on choice when two concurrent schedules of reinforcement were in effect. Implications for practice are discussed, as well as future research that could expand the findings.

KEYWORDS: functional analysis, functional communication training, schedules of reinforcement, concurrent schedules, choice

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Interventions for problem behavior often involve a competition between concurrently available response alternatives (Mace & Roberts, 1993). For example, in functional communication training (FCT), one goal of the intervention is to replace problem behavior with mands (Carr & Durand, 1985). Mands can be defined as communicative responses that specify the reinforcer (Skinner, 1957). For example, "Water, please" is a mand that specifies water as the reinforcer. When functional communication training is implemented as a treatment for problem behavior maintained by escape from difficult tasks, individuals are taught to request breaks (e.g., by signing or saying "Break, please," or some functionally similar request), and problem behavior is placed on extinction. Thus, during and following FCT interventions, the competition is between mands for breaks and problem behavior. Which response will be selected is determined by the independent schedule of reinforcement associated with each response option (McDowell, 1988).

Several applied researchers have evaluated the effects of various dimensions of reinforcement (e.g., rate of reinforcement, effort required to obtain reinforcement, delay to reinforcement, quality of reinforcement, and magnitude of reinforcement) on choices between sets of academic problems, multiple play activities, and multiple communication responses (e.g., Bicard & Neef, 2002; Hoch, McComas, Johnson, Faranda, & Guenther, 2002; Mace, Neef, Shade, & Mauro, 1994; Neef, Mace, Shea, and Shade, 1992; Neef, Shade & Miller, 1994; Neef et al., 2005; Neef & Lutz, 2001; Neef et al., 2004; Winborn, Wacker, Richman, Asmus, & Geier, 2002). Taken together, these studies have consistently demonstrated that choice responses are sensitive to the independent schedules of reinforcement in place for each response. A more limited number of studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of concurrent schedules of reinforcement during treatment of problem behavior (e.g., Harding et al., 1999; Horner & Day, 1991; Peck et al., 1996; Piazza et al., 1997; Richman, Wacker, & Winborn, 2001). These studies pitted problem behavior against more appropriate responses, such as task compliance or mands. Consistent with other applied research on choice making, these studies have shown that problem behavior and appropriate replacement responses are similarly sensitive to concurrently available reinforcement schedules.

Mace and Roberts noted in 1993 that quality is the least studied dimension of reinforcement in applied research. Since that time, only a few studies of the effects of concurrently available qualities of reinforcement during treatment of reinforcement have been conducted. …

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