Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

A Review of Timeout Ribbons

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

A Review of Timeout Ribbons

Article excerpt

Timeout, when used effectively, is a powerful behavior management tool (Turner & Watson, 1999). Timeout is defined as "the withdrawal of the opportunity to earn positive reinforcement or the loss of positive reinforcers for a specified time, contingent upon the occurrence of a behavior; the effect to reduce the future probability of that behavior" (Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2007, p. 357). Thus, timeout has two necessary conditions. First, the current environment must have reinforcing qualities. Second, a removal of those qualities must be less reinforcing than a removal from that environment. In other words, there must be a discrepancy between time-in (i.e. the environment with reinforcement) and timeout (i.e., the environment without reinforcement; Friman & Finney, 2003; Harris, 1985; Marlow, Tingstrom, Olmi, & Edwards, 1997). In early studies, researchers demonstrated timeout by placing an animal on extinction following some behavior, which subsequently decreased that behavior's probability (Anderson & King, 1974). However, as timeout was applied in more and more settings, variability rather than conformity appeared (Friman & Finney, 2003).

Even with response variability, timeout is now one of the most common disciplinary tactics used with children in the United States (Friman & Finney, 2003). There are three types of timeout: isolation or total removal from a reinforcing environment, exclusion from reinforcement within an environment, and non-exclusionary or reinforcement is stopped (Harris, 1985). Additionally, three types of nonexclusionary timeout include a removal of the reinforcing stimulus (i.e., withholding food or the cessation of music), ignoring the subject (i.e., turning away from the subject), and contingent observation (i.e., the subject must sit out and watch the appropriate behaviors of peers; Harris, 1985). With different variations available, considerations must be made when choosing a timeout procedure.

For a timeout to be effective it must be applied immediately following each occurrence of the target behavior, which is not always possible with isolation and exclusion (Hugenin & Mulick, 1981). Additionally, moving an individual during isolation, exclusion, or contingent observation timeout procedures usually involves physical guidance, which has been shown to reinforce misbehavior (Kern, Delany, Hilt, Bailin, & Elliot, 2002). Recently, the Council of Children with Behavioral Disorders (2009) has released a position statement concerning the use of seclusion and isolation. The considerations include secluding the individual too long (i.e., the loss of a considerable amount of educational time), the potential for abuse, and additional paradoxical effects (i.e., timeout as a positive or negative reinforcer for inappropriate behavior). In summary, timeouts have heightened detrimental effects when used ineffectively by inexperienced people (Harris, 1985).

On the other hand, non-exclusionary timeout procedures do not have the same negative concerns as other timeout techniques. A modified non-exclusionary timeout, the timeout ribbon procedure, combines contingent observation and the removal of a reinforcing stimulus. The availability of reinforcement is contingent upon the presence of some discriminative stimulus of which reinforcement has been paired. That stimulus is removed contingent upon the appearance of inappropriate or target behaviors and returned after a short period of time.

The timeout ribbon procedure controls for some of the negative side effects of timeout, but also raises additional concerns. The potential risk of abuse and paradoxical effects are reduced. During timeout, the child is not touched or removed from the educational environment. Also, earning a timeout does not allow the child to escape from educational demands; they are expected to continue working. However because the child remains in the educational setting, the environment must be able to maintain higher intensity inappropriate behaviors. …

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