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.


41st Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2015

Event Details

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Symposium #66
CE Offered: BACB
Factors Influencing Preference and Reinforcer Assessment Outcomes
Saturday, May 23, 2015
3:00 PM–4:50 PM
214D (CC)
Area: DDA/EAB; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Pamela L. Neidert (The University of Kansas)
Discussant: Jennifer L. Austin (University of South Wales)
CE Instructor: Pamela L. Neidert, Ph.D.

A substantial body of literature now exists demonstrating the use of reinforcement to increase a wide range of socially important behaviors in numerous populations across a range of settings. Systematic preference assessments are effective and efficient methods for identifying stimuli that serve as reinforcers, and numerous studies have demonstrated the predictive validity of a variety of assessment methods. As a result, systematic preference and reinforcer assessments have become a standard feature of both research and clinical practice. However, it has also been shown that numerous factors can influence preference assessment outcomes (subject variables, presentation method, motivating operations, response options, and consequence arrangements) and reinforcement effects (reinforcement parameters and type of schedule arranged during the assessment). The purpose of this symposium is to present the results of four studies examining the influence of a number of these factors. Findings will be discussed in terms of implications for both researchers and practitioners.

Keyword(s): preference assessment, reinforcement assessment
Investigating Stochastic Transitivity in Paired-Stimulus Preference Assessment Data
ALLISON JOSEPHINE CASTILE (Western New England University), Jason C. Bourret (New England Center for Children)
Abstract: Transitivity relations hold that, when A > B > C, then A should be > C. For example, a 100 dollar bill is worth more than at 20 dollar bill and a 20 dollar bill is worth more than a 5 dollar bill, therefore, a 100 dollar bill should be worth more than a 5 dollar bill. Furthermore, if our scaling of reinforcing efficacy is accurate, this preference difference should be quantifiable and transitivity should hold. Thus, a 100 dollar bill is worth 80 dollars more than a 20 dollar bill and a 20 dollar bill is worth 15 dollars more than a 5 dollar bill, therefore, a 100 dollar bill should be worth 95 dollars more than a 5 dollar bill (the summed differences in value between A and B and between B and C). These relations are a fundamental aspect of hierarchical categorization and their presence can be evaluated in the context of reinforcer selection probabilities on concurrent schedules. Research on transitivity in the outcomes of preference rankings obtained in basic research using response patterns from concurrent-chains schedules has shown these relations to sometimes be absent. These findings brought into questions the utility of the concurrent-chains schedule as a method for determining the relative reinforcing potency of consequences and also have implications for other concurrent schedules employed in ranking the strength of reinforcers, for example paired-stimulus preference assessments. If preference assessments are providing accurate rankings of the potency of reinforcers, transitivity must hold. The purpose of the current study is to apply the rules of transitivity to the results of paired stimulus preferences assessments to see if transitive relations are present.
Stability of Preschooler’s Preference for and Reinforcing Efficacy of Edible and Leisure Items
COURTNEY MOORE (University of Kansas), Pamela L. Neidert (The University of Kansas), Brian D. Greer (University of Nebraska Medical Center), Kelley L. Harrison (University of Kansas)
Abstract: Few applied studies have examined preference stability, and even fewer have examined the preference assessment methodology with young, typically developing children. In Study 1, weekly preference assessments (MSWO) were conducted 22 typically developing children for a mean of 19 weeks. Preference was evaluated for both edible and leisure items. The items in each preference assessment remained constant. The total number of edible- and leisure- item preference assessments conducted varied, but no child had fewer than 8 assessments. Results showed preference patterns were stable for only a third of the children, however reinforcer assessments were not conducted to validate preference results. In Study 2, we replicated and extended Study 1 by conducting reinforcer assessments following each preference assessment. To date, five children have participated. Three participants for whom edible items were assessed demonstrated stable preferences and preferences were predictive of reinforcer efficacy. Two participants for whom tangible items were assessed demonstrated unstable preference; the reinforcer assessments did not correlate with preference assessments. Results are discussed regarding the predictive validity of preference assessments with this population and the degree to which fluctuations in preference correlate with reinforcer efficacy. Finally, recommendations regarding the frequency with which to assess preschoolers’ preference will be discussed.
The Effects of Preference Assessment Type on Problem Behavior
SARA BETH RAWLINGS (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Jeanne M. Donaldson (Texas Tech University), SungWoo Kahng (University of Missouri)
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to compare three common preference assessment procedures to determine which results in both identification of a reinforcer and low rates of problem behavior during the assessment, while controlling for the duration of access to the items. This study was conducted with four participants admitted to an inpatient hospital for the treatment of severe problem behavior. Past research has shown that individuals with problem behavior maintained by access to tangible items may engage in higher rates of problem behavior during paired stimulus (PS) and multiple-stimulus without replacement (MSWO) preference assessments. A multielement design was used to compare problem behavior during the PS, MSWO, and free operant (FO) preference assessments when the time with access to the item was kept constant across all assessments. A second observer collected data for 48% of sessions, with an average of 97.67% (range 80%-100%) interobserver agreement. Results indicated that the PS and MSWO preference assessments produced higher rates of problem behavior than the FO and required more time to achieve the same preference hierarchy.
Reinforcer Assessments: Current Trends and Future Directions
Megan Borlase (Caldwell College), Tina Sidener (Caldwell College), DANIELLE L. GUREGHIAN (Garden Academy), April N. Kisamore (Caldwell College)
Abstract: Reinforcer assessments are a critical component of behavior analytic research for the identification of potent reinforcers. Although there is a large body of research on reinforcer assessments, to date a review of these studies has not been published. The purpose of this paper is to provide a systematic quantitative review of the research on reinforcer assessments from 1985 to 2014. A wide range of methodologies was identified across multiple parameters including session length, termination criterion, and reinforcement schedule. Participant characteristics, settings, preference assessment methodologies, and experimental designs used were also assessed. Review of the literature revealed idiosyncrasies across reinforcer assessment methodologies suggesting no overall trend in the literature. Despite this, some clear trends were identified such as the use of a 30-s access period, the use of continuous reinforcement for responses, and the use of session length as the primary termination criterion. Potential avenues for future research are described in an attempt to identify the most effective and efficient methods for conducting reinforcer assessments.



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