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.


45th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2019

Event Details

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Symposium #437
CE Offered: BACB
Recent Basic and Applied Research on Reinforced Behavioral Variability
Monday, May 27, 2019
9:00 AM–10:50 AM
Swissôtel, Concourse Level, Zurich E-G
Area: EAB/AUT; Domain: Translational
Chair: Armando Machado (University of Minho)
Discussant: Allen Neuringer (Reed College)
CE Instructor: Sara Pound, M.A.

In this symposium, presenters will describe basic and applied research in the field of operant variability. This symposium will be chaired by Armando Machado, who will provide brief commentary between presentations. First, Galizio and Odum will share a basic research study on the generalization of reinforced variability across response topographies, levers and nosepokes, in rats. Next, Roberts, Biondolillo, and Yarbrough will show data from a basic research study examining operant variability of timing responses in rats. Next, Falcomata, Bagwell, Ringdahl, McComas, and Shpall will present a translational research study using a human operant resurgence paradigm to determine the effects of using a lag schedule as an alternative response. Lastly, Wolfe, Pound, McCammon, Chezan, and Drasgow will present a systematic review of interventions that promote variability in communication for individuals with autism. They will analyze the existing research on variability interventions for individuals with autism and make recommendations for future research and clinical applications. Finally, Allen Neuringer will serve as the discussant and will discuss theoretical implications of this research.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): FCT, operant variability, relapse, timing
Target Audience:

Basic and applied researchers; practitioners

Learning Objectives: 1. Participants will describe current research on reinforced variability in nonhuman animals. 2. Participants will describe the application of research on variability to mitigating the effects of resurgence during FCT. 3. Participants will describe the current state of the literature on interventions to promote variability in individuals with ASD.
Investigating Generalization of Reinforced Variability in Rats
(Basic Research)
ANNIE GALIZIO (Utah State University), Amy Odum (Utah State University)
Abstract: A great deal of research suggests that behavioral variability may be an operant, and can be controlled by reinforcement. If variability is an operant, then variability training should generalize across situations. The present study was designed to determine whether variability training on one response topography would generalize to another response topography. In Phase 1 of this experiment, rats produced four-response sequences across two nosepoke apertures (e.g., LRLR, where L and R indicate left and right responses, respectively). One group of rats (Vary) earned food for producing sequences of nosepokes that differed sufficiently from previous sequences using a threshold contingency, in which only infrequent sequences produced a reinforcer. The other group (Yoke) earned food at the same rate, but was not required to vary. In Phase 1, levels of variability were high for the Vary group and low for the Yoke group. In Phase 2, all rats were exposed to a threshold contingency for lever presses. If rats in the Vary group learned to vary lever presses more quickly than the Yoke group, then it is likely that variability training generalized across response topographies. Such evidence of generalization would support the idea that variability is an operant and inform clinical applications.
The Impact of Reinforcement Contingency on Interresponse Time in Rats
(Basic Research)
JAROD CLARK ROBERTS (Arkansas State University), Kris Biondolillo (Arkansas State University), Gary Yarbrough (Arkansas Northeastern College)
Abstract: Current research in the area of operant variability suggests that response variability can be controlled by operant reinforcement; however, there have been few studies of variation in timing of responses. To investigate the latter phenomenon, five female Wistar rats were exposed to a series of contingencies in which subjects were required to vary the times between lever press responses in order to obtain reinforcement. After a baseline condition, rats were exposed to three increasingly demanding variability contingencies with a return to baseline following each, and finally a comparison phase in which reinforcement probability was limited. It was predicted that subjects would vary sequences of responses as a function of variability contingency. The results of the study supported this hypothesis, with high levels of interresponse time variability observed, particularly in the most stringent variability contingency. These results support the notion that reinforcement can control variability in the timing of operant responding.

A Comparison of Lag Schedules and a Serial Approach to Training Multiple Responses on Persistence and Resurgence of Responding Within an Analogue of Functional Communication Training

(Applied Research)
Terry S. Falcomata (The University of Texas at Austin), ASHLEY BAGWELL (University of Texas at Austin), Joel Eric Ringdahl (University of Georgia), Jennifer J. McComas (University of Minnesota), Cayenne Shpall (University of Texas at Austin)

Myriad previous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of functional communication training (FCT) for the treatment of problem behavior exhibited by individuals with disabilities. However, resurgence may occur if the treatment is challenged by lapses in fidelity. One strategy for “inoculating” against resurgence of problem behavior involves the teaching of multiple modalities of communication during FCT. In the current human operant-based study serving as an analogue to FCT, we alternated two conditions across a 3-phase resurgence preparation. During Phase A, in both conditions, a target response was reinforced on a variable ratio (VR) 10-s schedule. During Phase B, target responding was on extinction in both conditions; an alternative response was reinforced on sequential (i.e., serial) fixed ratio (FR) 1 schedules in one condition and multiple responses were reinforced on a Lag 3 schedule in the other condition. During Phase C, all responses across both conditions were on extinction and persistence of alternative responding and resurgence of targeting responding was compared across conditions. Results varied with regard to resurgence of target responding while the majority of subjects exhibited higher persistence of alternative responding in the Lag schedule condition. Future avenues of research and potential implications of the current results will be discussed.


A Systematic Review of Interventions to Promote Variable Communication Behaviors in Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders

(Applied Research)
SARA POUND (SCABA), Katie Wolfe (University of South Carolina), Meka McCammon (University of South Carolina), Laura C. Chezan (Old Dominion University), Erik Drasgow (University of South Carolina)

Abstract: Some individuals with ASD do not acquire vocal language, and those who do may engage in repetitive communicative behaviors that can limit skill acquisition, access to reinforcement, and access to less restrictive settings. Basic and applied research indicate that variability, or the extent to which responses are topographically different from one another, is influenced by antecedent and consequence interventions. Our purpose in this study was to systematically review the literature on interventions to increase variable communication behaviors in individuals with ASD. We identified 31 articles through a database search, and screened them using the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Single-Case Design Standards. Twenty studies containing 58 cases met WWC Design Standards. We coded the descriptive characteristics and strength of evidence, based on visual analysis, from each of these 20 studies. Our results indicate that mands and intraverbals were the most frequently targeted verbal operants, and that lag schedules were the most common intervention used to promote variability (65%). Most cases (72%) provide strong evidence of a functional relation between the interventions and varied communicative behavior. We will discuss the implications of our results for practice and for future research on interventions targeting variability with this population.




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