Date of Degree
Access restricted until 02/23/2019
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Psychological and Quantitative Foundations
David P. Wacker
The current study investigated the effects of blending preferred stimuli with nonpreferred tasks in altering motivation to escape those tasks, during 90 minute outpatient appointments. For each participant, I first evaluated preferences for social stimuli (e.g., qualities of attention, activities, and tangible items) and then incorporated those preferences into the historically avoided, escaped, or nonpreferred demand. Participants were eight individuals referred to a tertiary-level outpatient clinic for severe challenging behavior involving noncompliance.
Consistent with previous research, I hypothesized that the presence of preferred stimuli within the demand context would alter the motivating operation (MO) for escape maintained challenging behavior, thereby increasing task engagement. In addition to task engagement, I also measured indices of happiness (Green & Reid, 1996) when preferred stimuli were and were not incorporated into leisure and demand contexts.
Results of the current study showed that all participants were 100% compliant with target tasks after preferred stimuli were incorporated into those tasks. Each participant showed elevated levels of indices of happiness when his preferred stimuli were incorporated into the leisure context. However, levels of indices of happiness displayed during work differed across participants. Specifically, half of the participants showed elevated levels of indices of happiness in the work context when their preferred stimuli were incorporated, and half did not, relative to when preferred stimuli were absent.
There are two types of motivating operations (MOs) that could have influenced participants’ choice to work: (a) abolishing operations (AOs), in which the value of negative reinforcement was reduced, or (b) establishing operations (EOs), in which the value of positive reinforcement was established, or increased. I propose that the patterns in indices of happiness displayed across participants may reflect a distinction between AOs and EOs. Specifically, elevated levels of indices of happiness during work may suggest that the preferred stimuli functioned as EOs for half of the participants; for the other half of participants, low levels of indices of happiness during work may suggest that the preferred stimuli functioned as AOs.
This distinction may have implications for future investigations of maintenance. For example, individuals with historically escape-maintained challenging behavior who choose to work because of an EO may have better long-term compliance than individuals who choose to work because of an AO. Measuring indices of happiness during treatment may be one way to ascertain this distinction.
The current study demonstrated a brief approach to identifying preferences and incorporating those preferences into historically nonpreferred tasks in order to alter participants’ motivation to engage in those tasks. Additionally, by measuring indices of happiness across leisure and demand contexts, when preferred stimuli were and were not incorporated, the current study offered a novel perspective on the role of positive reinforcement in altering motivation to escape tasks.
Copyright © 2016 Jessica Emily Graber