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.


46th Annual Convention; Washington DC; 2020

Event Details

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Symposium #464
Behavioral Economic Extensions to Assessments and Interventions for Individuals With Developmental Disabilities
Monday, May 25, 2020
9:00 AM–10:50 AM
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level 2, Room 201
Area: AUT/EAB; Domain: Translational
Chair: Shawn Patrick Gilroy (Louisiana State University)
Discussant: Christopher E. Bullock (Francis Marion University)
CE Instructor: Shawn Patrick Gilroy, Ph.D.

Behavioral economic methods are increasingly applied in various disciplines and areas of human and non-human research. Although these approaches have good support across populations and disciplines, relatively few researchers have extended this approach and perspective to assessments and interventions for individuals with developmental disabilities (e.g., autism). Such extensions are both timely and warranted for Behavior Analysts, as behavioral economic approaches have been particularly suited to evaluating complex response-reinforcer relationships under complex, real-world conditions. The papers invited for this symposium have been selected to provide a broad, scoping review of the current state of applied behavioral economics in assessments and interventions developed for individuals with developmental disabilities. Particular emphasis is based on the behavioral economic concept of demand and novel extensions of token economy procedures. The behavioral economic concept of demand is presented here in the context of individualized reinforcer assessments and functional communication training undergoing schedule thinning. Novel extensions of the token economy are also reviewed, evaluating the effects of loss aversion on responding.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): behavioral economics, developmental disabilities, operant demand, token economy
Target Audience:

Master's level behavior analysts

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: 1. Explain basic behavioral economic concepts. 2. Describe elements of Behavioral Economics relevant to applied practice. 3. Describe novel extensions of Token Economies relevant to applied practice.

Systematic Review of Applied Behavioral Economics With Individuals With Developmental Disabilities

(Applied Research)
BRENT KAPLAN (University of Kentucky), Shawn Patrick Gilroy (Louisiana State University)

Methods for evaluating individual preference and choice are regularly included in Behavior Analytic research and practice. A variety of methods have been put forward to evaluate preference though these methods rarely evaluate choices under effortful, treatment-like conditions. A fundamental disconnect between these contexts invites the possibility that stimuli identified may not be preferred in treatment-like conditions and this can jeopardize the effectiveness of otherwise appropriate treatment. Recent attempts to address this disconnect have incorporated elements of Behavioral Economics. In this study, we systematically review the scope and range of Behavioral Economic procedures that have been formally evaluated in the literature. Studies were included in the review if Behavioral Economic elements were incorporated into assessments and interventions designed for individuals with developmental disabilities. Results indicated that the level of support for assessments and interventions incorporating Behavioral Economic elements is still emerging and additional research continues to be necessary.

Handling Costs Affect Preference for Accumulated and Distributed Response-Reinforcer Arrangements
(Applied Research)
JENNIFER N. HADDOCK (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Kennedy Krieger Institute )
Abstract: Handling costs have been implicated as a determinant of preference for accumulated/distributed response-reinforcer arrangements. We evaluated three participants’ pre-session choice of accumulated vs distributed response-reinforcer arrangements. When the reinforcement parameters differed only with respect to their distribution (at the end of or during the session), all participants exhibited exclusive preference for the distributed arrangement. When a quality manipulation, in which the handling costs of reinforcer consumption in the distributed arrangement were increased, participants exhibited exclusive preference for the accumulated arrangement. These results are preliminary but suggest that increasing the handling costs associated with reinforcer consumption can produce shifts in preference.

Asymmetry of Token Gain and Loss in Individuals Diagnosed With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

(Applied Research)
ELISSA SPINKS (Maryland Applied Behavior Analysis), Griffin Rooker (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Michelle A. Frank-Crawford (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Michael Kranak (Kennedy Krieger Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine), Jennifer N. Haddock (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Kennedy Krieger Institute ), Ashley Nicole Carver (Kennedy Krieger Institute)

Matching (Herrnstein, 1961) has been demonstrated with appetitive and aversive stimuli, including when appetitive and aversive stimuli are simultaneously presented (Farley & Fantino, 1978). Interestingly, in contexts where a single response produces both reinforcement and punishment, some research has demonstrated that a punisher subtracted more value than a reinforcer added (Rasmussen & Newland, 2008). We assessed the purported asymmetry of reinforcement and punishment for three individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID). We established tokens as reinforcers and evaluated the effects of simultaneous token gain and loss schedule in a progressive manner. Losses gradually became denser to identify a schedule at which the individual would not respond. Finally, we demonstrated that the loss contingency was directly responsible for the cessation of responding, as responding maintained when an equal density of reinforcement was available for gain without the loss contingency. Mixed findings were obtained; however, these results suggest that an asymmetry between punishment and reinforcement is present for some individuals with ID. Suggestions for future research and implications for practitioners will be discussed.

Operant Demand and Reinforcer Efficacy: Incorporating the Elasticity of Demand into Behavior Analytic Evaluations of Reinforcers
(Applied Research)
SHAWN PATRICK GILROY (Louisiana State University), Jodie Waits (Louisiana State University)
Abstract: Assessments of stimulus preference are regularly used to identify potentially efficacious reinforcers. Although stimuli rated highly on these assessments often function as reinforcers, the relative ranking of these stimuli offers minimal information regarding how strongly, and under what conditions, these stimuli function as reinforcers. Without a priori knowledge regarding the performance of reinforcers under real-world conditions, treatments might unintentionally rely on reinforcers that are efficacious only within a narrow window of conditions (i.e., FR1). Reinforcers that are efficacious within a narrow range limit opportunities for thinning the schedule of reinforcement and can result in more burdensome treatment packages for caregivers and educators to implement. This paper reviews an approach for evaluating reinforcers using concepts derived from Behavioral Economics, namely elasticity. We provide a review of the methods available to index the elasticity of demand for reinforcers as well as provide examples of how this approach can be used to inform which schedules of reinforcement to use in treatments (e.g., functional communication training).



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