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.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

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Symposium #57
CE Offered: BACB
Further Examination of the Role of Response-Independent Schedules and Punishment
Saturday, May 25, 2024
10:00 AM–11:50 AM
Convention Center, 200 Level, 203 AB
Area: PCH/EAB; Domain: Theory
Chair: Catia Cividini-Motta (University of South Florida)
Discussant: William H. Ahearn (New England Center for Children)
CE Instructor: William H. Ahearn, Ph.D.

Numerous research studies have employed response-independent schedules (i.e., noncontingent reinforcement; NCR) as control conditions or treatment for disruptive behavior. Moreover, stimulus control procedures are often employed in applied research aimed at decreasing disruptive behavior. The current symposium includes three presentations related to response-independent schedules and one examining the role of punishment on discriminated responding. The first presentation provides a brief history of the terms environmental enrichment (EE) and NCR and proposes a new conceptually neutral umbrella term. The second presentation examines the evidence from both laboratory and applied research that response-independent schedules produce adventitious reinforcement. The third presentation summarizes results of an experimental study which evaluated the effects of two procedural variations of NCR, rotating the effective competing stimuli and prompting functional engagement, on levels of automatically reinforced disruptive behavior. Finally, the fourth presentation consists of an experimental study comparing responses under the stimulus associated with the absence of punishment (hypothesized S?p) with responses under the stimulus associated with the absence of reinforcement (S?). The symposium concludes with thoughtful comments from the discussant.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): punishment, response-independent schedules
Target Audience:

Doctorate level behavior analysts Masters level behavior analysts

Learning Objectives: Attendees will be able to describe how an A-CSA can inform treatment of automatically-reinforced SIB. Attendees will understand the history of the terms EE and NCR. Attendees will understand the role of response-independent schedules on superstitious behavior.
On Terms: Environmental Enrichment and Noncontingent Reinforcement
MARY LLINAS (University of South Florida), Elbert Blakely (Florida Tech), Thomas R. Freeman (ABA Technologies Inc. - Florida Tech)
Abstract: The term "noncontingent reinforcement" (NCR) has long been used in both research and clinical practice. However, it is a conceptually flawed term as recognized by several authors (e.g., Poling & Normand, 1999). Nonetheless, behavior analysts have continued to use this term and in fact, another terminological issue has arisen. Currently, NCR is now serving as an umbrella term that covers both time-based schedules and response-independent continuous access to stimuli; the latter being sometimes called “environmental enrichment (EE).” That NCR is now used to describe two distinct procedures can lead to confusion and imprecise communication. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to provide a brief history of these terms, EE and NCR, and explore some of the attendant terminological issues in relation to the mechanisms of action. We will then propose a new conceptually neutral umbrella term for these two procedures and suggest a series of actions to resolve this ongoing problem in our terminology.

Bridging the Gap Between Laboratory and Applied Research on Response-Independent Schedules

EINAR T. INGVARSSON (VIA Centers for Neurodevelopment), Eduardo Fernandez (The University of Adelaide)

In 1948, Skinner described the behavior of pigeons under response-independent schedules as “superstitious,” and proposed that the responses were reinforced by contiguous, adventitious food deliveries. Subsequently, response-independent schedules have been of interest to both basic and applied researchers, first to understand the mechanisms involved, and later, to use as treatment, known as “noncontingent reinforcement” (NCR), to reduce challenging behavior. However, the potential superstitious effects produced by these schedules have been challenged, with some researchers arguing that antecedent variables play a significant role. This paper examines the evidence for adventitious reinforcement from both laboratory and applied research, the results of which suggest that antecedent, non-operant functions may be important in fully understanding the effects of NCR. An applied-basic research synthesis will be discussed, in which attention to potential non-operant functions could provide a more complete understanding of response-independent schedules. Further, the applied implications of the non-operant functions of NCR schedules will be covered.

Examination of Procedural Variations for Presenting Competing Stimuli in the Treatment of Automatically Maintained Behavior
KIMBERLY AMBER MORRISON (Behavioral Innovations), William H. Ahearn (New England Center for Children)
Abstract: Competing stimulus assessments serve to identify activities to replace or compete with the sensory consequences that maintain the automatically reinforced behavior. The current study evaluated methods for assessing and extending the effectiveness of various procedural modifications in presenting effective competing stimuli (ECS) that were identified through an augmented competing stimulus assessment (A-CSA) on automatically maintained problem behavior (AMPB). Two students with autism and other developmental disabilities were recommended by their clinical team to participate in this study. Levels of AMPB and functional engagement were measured and IOA data were collected for at least 33% of sessions and mean total IOA was always above 85%. Items selected for use in the A-CSA were chosen based on a questionnaire completed by the participants’ clinical team. Results for the participants demonstrated that presentation of the leisure items in the free access condition alone was effective in reducing rates in the target response by 80%. A treatment analysis was then conducted and results showed that both treatment conditions (rotating ECS and prompting functional engagement) were effective. Rotating items or prompting functional engagement is likely an effective procedure for promoting engagement with competing stimuli for AMPB. Implications of the results will be discussed.
Experimental Analysis of Stimulus Control by Punishment
SOMCHART SAKULKOO (TrueNorth Educational Cooperative 804; The Chicago School of Professional Psychology), Shannon Ormandy (The Chicago School), Karen M. Lionello-DeNolf (Assumption University), Cameron Mittelman (The Chicago School)
Abstract: The present study attempted to experimentally compare the responses under the stimulus associated with the absence of punishment (hypothesized SΔp) with the stimulus associated with the absence of reinforcement (SΔ) on the abative effect in human participants by presenting a series of pairs of controlling stimuli on a multiple schedule of reinforcement. Preliminary phases consisted of acquisition, punisher assessment, and baseline. Comparison in the stimulus control phases consisted of two main conditions: establishing stimulus control (ESC) and reversing stimulus control (RSC) conditions. The last phase was the controlling stimulus as a consequence (SaaC). The study measured various dependent variables, including number of responses, latency, interresponse time (IRT), duration to criterion, and response rate. The results suggested that: (a) the controlling effects of the SΔ were different in ESC and RSC phases, (b) the controlling effects of the hypothesized SΔp were different in ESC and RSC phases, (c) the controlling effects of the SΔ and hypothesized SΔp were different in at least two dimensions (i.e., number of responses and latency) of the target behavior, and (d) all controlling stimuli when being delivered as consequences had different effects on the target behavior among participants.



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