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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Invited Symposium #99A
Rate Dependency: Still Useful After All These Years
Saturday, May 25, 2024
3:00 PM–4:50 PM
Convention Center, 100 Level, 108 AB
Area: SCI/BPN; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Chris Hughes (University of North Carolina Wilmington)
Discussant: Warren Bickel (Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech University)

Over 70 years ago, behavioral pharmacology evolved as a scientific discipline integrating behavior analysis and pharmacology starting with the collaboration of B.F. Skinner and Peter Dews at Harvard. One of the first unifying principles that emerged from early research was the notion of rate dependency – that a drug’s effects on behavior was a function of the baseline rate of responding. This led to decades of experimental analysis in behavioral pharmacology. In this symposium, Dr. Jonathan Katz provides a brief history of behavioral pharmacology and rate dependency. Then others present data from several lines of research indicating that rate or baseline dependency remains a useful framework within a variety of domains including behavioral momentum, Dr. Jonathan Pinkston, impulsive and risky choice, Drs. Raymond Pitts and Chris Hughes, and contingency management of drug use, Dr. Stephen Higgins. Dr. Warren Bickel will be our discussant.

Instruction Level: Intermediate

Response Rate Dependency of the Behavioral Effects of Drugs: A Brief History

JONATHAN KATZ (National Institute on Drug Abuse (ret.))

In the 1960s Peter Dews and associates published papers indicating that drug effects on operant responding under reinforcement schedules varied with response rates occurring under non-drug conditions. This so-called rate-dependency effect had precedents in physiological pharmacology, particularly in cardiovascular effects of drugs. It is also related to the Law of Initial Values (Wilder, 1962) which states that effects of any agent depend largely on initial levels of the studied variable. A 1964 paper by Dews using fixed-interval schedules examined the specificity of the effects of amobarbital on suppressed responding and was especially notable as it detailed how an evaluation of moderating environmental influences on drug effects could be conducted with due consideration of rate dependency. That analysis also occasioned critiques regarding how to properly express rate-dependent effects. One of these focused on absolute response rate, rather than change as the critical outcome after drug administration. The other considered that average response rates under fixed-interval schedules are unrepresentative of bimodal distributions of constituent response rates. Each critique can be shown to be of minimal significance. The empirical ubiquity across species, environmental conditions, and pharmacological agents indicates that rate dependency remains critical in consideration of factors influencing the behavioral effects of drugs.

Dr. Jonathan L. Katz received a Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Maryland (1978), studying with Dr. James E. Barrett, and post-doctoral training at the Harvard Medical School studying with Dr. William H. Morse. He subsequently joined the research faculty in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Michigan Medical School (1980-1982) working with Dr. James H. Woods. In 1983 he moved to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Intramural Research Program where he remained until retirement in 2017. His research was funded with fellowships from the National Institute of Mental Health and NIDA, as well as NIDA grants and IRP funding. He has published over 290 papers primarily focused on understanding the pharmacological and behavioral mechanisms underlying the effects and abuse of stimulants, and the role of sigma receptors in that abuse. Other research focused on the abuse of various classes of compounds including opioids and benzodiazepines.

Rate-Dependency Dependencies: Reinforcer Magnitude

JONATHAN PINKSTON (University of Kansas)

Rate dependency refers to empirical observations that the effects of an intervention depend on the baseline rate of behavior. Early work on rate dependency occurred in the context of behavioral pharmacology. Repeated demonstrations that drug effects depended on the rates of behavior, and accompanying mathematical descriptions, affirmed the importance behavior itself plays in pharmacological treatments. At the same time, behavior analysis has shown behavior to be determined by environmental factors, raising the question of what factors determine the rate upon which rate-dependency depends. Our group has focused on one factor in particular—reinforcer magnitude. In several experiments, pigeons earned food according to multiple fixed-interval schedules, where the components differed only in the magnitude of the reinforcer earned. In examinations of several classes of drugs, we showed rate-dependent effects across the interval varied inversely with reinforcer magnitude, that is rate-dependent effects were reduced as magnitude increased. Thus, it appears that increasing reinforcer magnitude has a protective effect on fixed-interval behavior. The findings are consistent with the view of behavior proposed by behavioral momentum theory, whereby schedules are seen to establish response rates and reinforcer magnitude (density) establishes resistance to change.

Dr. Jonathan Pinkston is Associate Professor of Applied Behavior Science at the University of Kansas. Dr. Pinkston’s research has contributed to a number of basic and translational research areas over the past 20 years, including schedule performance, extinction-related processes, choice, pausing and procrastination, and models of drug addiction. A common thread in all his research has been to “open” the response to understand how its properties relate to behavioral function. As he sees it, traditional operant approaches have focused too narrowly on bits of stimuli and responses, organized as discrete features of the three-term contingency. By using high-resolution, analog measurement systems, Dr. Pinkston’s research has provided new perspectives on the nature of operant behavior as a continuous quantity, and the defining features of the response itself as new sources of behavioral function. When he is not in the lab, he spends most of his time in the kitchen trying out new recipes or outdoors hiking and biking with his family.

Baseline/Rate Dependency: A Useful Framework for Clarifying Drug Effects on Sensitivity to Reinforcement

RAYMOND PITTS (University of North Carolina Wilmington)

Despite substantial progress over the past two decides characterizing drug effects on impulsive and risky behavior and elucidating some of the relevant neurobiological mechanisms, considerable discrepancies remain in the literature, both within and across studies. In our hands, drugs invariably decrease sensitivity to the particular reinforcement dimensions controlling choice, but the degree to which this effect occurs varies both within and across subjects. As such, using these data to predict drug effects on impulsive and risky choice is tricky. In this talk, selected data from our lab investigating drug effects on sensitivity to reinforcement under continuous choice procedures will be presented. These data strongly suggest that effects of a variety of drugs are best described as baseline dependent. These analyses suggest that baseline/rate dependence, an example of the original Law of Initial Values (see Wilder, 1931,1962), remains a viable concept, one that behavioral pharmacologists and behavioral neuroscientists ignore at their peril.

Dr. Raymond C. Pitts is a Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Florida in 1989, with a specialty in the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. Dr. Pitts’ research interests include basic experimental analyses of choice/preference and behavioral mechanisms of drug action. His work has been supported by grants from the NIH (NIDA) and has been published in a variety of outlets including Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, Behavioural Processes, Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Psychopharmacology, Behavioral Neuroscience, and Clinical and Experimental Psychopharmacology. Dr. Pitts has served on several Editorial Boards and as an Associate Editor for the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. He served as the Experimental Representative for the Executive Council of Division 25 of APA, served as the Experimental Representative on the Executive Council of ABAI, is a Fellow of ABAI and of APA Division 25, and is a two-time President of the Southeastern Association for Behavior Analysis.

Baseline Rate of Drug Use and Initial and Longer-Term Treatment Response

STEPHEN HIGGINS (University of Vermont)

I will discuss how baseline rate of cigarette smoking or cocaine use are strong predictors of response to abstinence-contingent Contingency Management (CM) interventions. Similarly, duration of abstinence achieved during the treatment period is a strong predictor of the likelihood of sustaining longer-term abstinence. Regarding the latter, I’ll share experimental results from a randomized controlled clinical trial testing the validity of these observations in which 100 cocaine-dependent outpatients were randomly assigned to one of two abstinence-contingent CM treatment conditions (Higgins et al., 2007). In one condition, vouchers were set at twice the usual monetary value (maximum of $1,995 during the 12-week intervention) whereas in the other treatment condition they were set at half the usual value (maximum of $499 during the 12-week intervention). All else in the treatment conditions remained the same across treatment conditions. As illustrated in the figure shown below, increasing the value of the vouchers increased the mean duration of continuous cocaine abstinence achieved during the 24-week treatment period twofold, and as hypothesized, point-prevalence cocaine abstinence was consistently greater among those treated in the high-magnitude voucher condition compared to the low-magnitude condition in assessments conducted every 3 months throughout an 18-month follow-up period. This presentation will put particular emphasis the importance of a positive initial treatment response to achieving longer-term abstinence from drug use. remains critical in consideration of factors influencing the behavioral effects of drugs.

Dr. Stephen T. Higgins is Director of the University of Vermont’s Center on Behavior and Health, and Principal Investigator on multiple NIH grants on the general topic of behavior and health, including an NIGMS Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) award, a NIDA/FDA Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science award, and a NIDA institutional training award. He is the Virginia H. Donaldson Endowed Professor of Translational Science in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychological Science. He has held many national scientific leadership positions, including terms as President of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence and the American Psychological Association’s Division on Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse. He has received numerous national awards for research excellence including a 2001 NIH-MERIT Award (NIDA), 2001 Don Hake Basic/Applied Research Award (Div 25, APA), 2011 Brady-Schuster Award for Outstanding Behavioral Science Contributions to Psychopharmacology or Substance Abuse (Div 28, APA), a 2017 Mentorship Award (College on Problems of Drug Dependence), and the 2022 SABA Award for Scientific Translation. He is the author of more than 425 journal articles and invited book chapters and editor of a dozen volumes and therapist manuals in behavior and health.



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