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.


47th Annual Convention; Online; 2021

All times listed are Eastern time (GMT-4 at the time of the convention in May).

Event Details

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Symposium #60
CE Offered: BACB
Preference and Reinforcer Assessments in Domestic and Captive Animals
Saturday, May 29, 2021
11:00 AM–12:50 PM
Area: AAB; Domain: Translational
Chair: Mindy Waite (University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee)
Discussant: Christy A. Alligood (Disney's Animal Kingdom and University of Florida)
CE Instructor: Andrew Bulla, Ph.D.
Abstract: Domesticated or captive wild animals often require behavioral interventions to address problem behaviors or acquire skills to thrive in their human-derived environments. These behavioral interventions typically include reinforcement procedures in order to meet ethical guidelines and also maximize procedure efficacy. Use of reinforcement procedures requires identifying appropriate and efficacious reinforcers, yet the efficacy of specific consequences may be unique across species and even across individuals within a species. Therefore, preference and reinforcer assessments should be performed across different species, settings, and individuals. However, these assessments have been tested across relatively few species and contexts. The studies in this symposium sought to develop and test preference and reinforcer assessments across various species. The first two studies tested whether preference assessments can inform environmental enrichment programs for loggerhead sea turtles and Bengal tigers. The third study tested a simple, owner-implemented food preference assessment for companion canines. The fourth study tested whether the efficacy of reinforcers for dogs in the form of petting is a function of reinforcer duration. The applications for animal welfare will be discussed.
Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): animals, choice, individual preferences, preference assessment
Target Audience: The audience should already have a basic understanding of behavior principles and behavior analytic applications. This will assist them in understanding the importance of preference and reinforcer assessments, as well as the methodology itself.
Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) identify the importance of preference and reinforcer assessments for animal behavior modification practice; (2) identify how preference assessments can be applied to various species and different putative reinforcers; (3) identify how reinforcer assessments can be applied to dogs and petting as a putative reinforcer.

Exploring the Effects of Preference Assessment Outcomes on Environmental Enrichment Devices With Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta)

(Applied Research)
ANDREW BULLA (Georgia Southern University - Armstrong ), Amanda Mahoney (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology ), Erin Frick (Eckard College)

Being confined with inadequacy to explore may cause animals housed in managed-care facilities to engage in stereotypic behaviors. Stereotypic behaviors often include pacing, random motor behaviors, or any repetitive behavior without any apparent goal. Enrichment devices prove to be one solution that may help increase the quality of life for animals in managed care. Environmental enrichment provides non-human organisms opportunities to engage in adaptive behaviors and may improve their well-being, however the exposure and enrichment animals receive in the wild can be difficult to replicate. In the current study, we used the results of food and color preference assessments to create individualized enrichment devices. Researchers used highly preferred food in enrichment devices based on the most and least preferred colors of the loggerhead seat turtle. An alternating treatment design was used to assess the effects of each device on stereotypic and adaptive behaviors. Results and implications for practice will be discussed.

Making a Tiger’s Day: Free-Operant Assessment and Environmental Enrichment to Improve the Daily Lives of Captive Bengal Tigers (Panthera tigris tigris)
(Applied Research)
Trista Shrock (Missouri State University), MICHAEL C. CLAYTON (Missouri State University)
Abstract: There are more captive tigers in the United States than there are wild tigers in the entire world. Many animals under human care engage in problem behaviors such as excessive grooming and aggression, although the origin of these behaviors is typically unknown. Environmental enrichment may mitigate these issues in captive animals of all kinds. In order to individualize enrichment experiences, the current study used a free-operant assessment procedure to establish a menu of most preferred play items and scents among seven Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) housed at a sanctuary in southwest Missouri. Each tiger was tested three times with scents (cinnamon and Calvin Klein Obsession perfume) and play items (boxes, balls, leaves, and pumpkins). The importance of rigorous assessment of presumed reinforcers among captive wild animals, as well as the difficulty of effectively assessing tigers while ensuring the safety of both the participants and researchers, is discussed.
Simple Food Preference Assessments for Companion Dogs
(Applied Research)
MINDY WAITE (University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee), Tiffany Kodak (Marquette University)
Abstract: Preference assessments determine relative rankings among a variety of putative reinforcers. As a result, preference assessments are often used with humans to identify highly preferred items to include in behavioral interventions. Although many owners of companion dogs program food as a reinforcer during training, few determine their selection of putative reinforcers from formal preference assessments, potentially because existing preference assessments for dogs may be too complex or problematic for the typical owner. The purpose of this study was to test the validity, duration, and owner integrity of a simple, owner-implemented paired-stimulus preference assessment for companion dogs. Results suggest the paired-stimulus preference assessment protocol was able to establish relative rankings across various foods for individual dogs. The relative reinforcing efficacy of items identified from the paired-stimulus preference assessment was supported by secondary comparisons of the high- and low-ranked foods using a progressive ratio schedule. Further, owners were able to implement the protocol after a brief virtual demonstration, suggesting the protocol may be simple enough to be widely applied by dog owners and professionals.
A Parametric Analysis of the Duration of Petting as a Reinforcer for Shelter Dog Behavior
(Applied Research)
ARIELLE BRIANNA HEGR (California State University - Fresno), Steven W. Payne (California State University, Fresno), Dolly Mizner Stiles (California State University, Fresno )
Abstract: Previous research has indicated that petting dogs in the absence of food reinforcers can be effective for teaching new skills. However, the most effective duration of petting is not clear. It is important for animal shelter staff to be aware of the most efficient duration of petting to increase desirable behavior in dogs because 1) petting dogs is more cost effective than using edible reinforcers and 2) dogs may be more likely to be adopted if they exhibit desirable behaviors. Using a reversal design, eight dogs of varying breeds and ages at a local animal shelter served as subjects in which the efficacy of different durations of petting as reinforcers for a simple operant response were compared. Following baseline, the conditions included petting for durations of 5 s, 20 s, and 1 min for each response. Overall, results indicate that there may be individual preferences for dogs when receiving different lengths of attention. However, all dogs responded more frequently during all attention conditions relative to baseline, suggesting that even low durations of petting may serve as reinforcers for low-effort behaviors. Implications of these results will be discussed.



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