Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Psychological and Quantitative Foundations
Stewart W. Ehly
David P. Wacker
Behavioral momentum theory (BMT) provides a theoretical framework for studying the persistence of behavior when challenged. The typical experimental arrangement to study persistence involves reinforcing a behavior according to a multiple schedules design. Unique schedules of reinforcement are programmed to each component. When steady-state responding occurs, the schedules of reinforcement are disrupted by a challenge condition (e.g., extinction, distraction, or prefeeding). The multiple schedules component that maintains the greatest level of responding during disruption is described as being more persistent. Basic research has shown that rate of reinforcement is a reliable predictor of persistence. The multiple schedules component associated with the higher rate of reinforcement persists longer than the multiple schedules component associated with the lower rate of reinforcement during disruption. Applied researchers have recently begun translating BMT to problems of social significance. The success of these initial translations suggests that relations between other dimensions of reinforcement and persistence should be studied. The current two-experiment study investigated the effect of quality of reinforcement on the persistence of task completion. Three participants with a history of engaging in problem behavior to escape from demands participated in Experiment I. After showing the conditions under which participants would and would not allocate away from a work task to engage with a preferred item, a baseline measure of task completion was obtained. Task completion was then reinforced with attention or tangibles within a multiple schedules design. Orange tokens signaled access to tangible reinforcement and yellow tokens signaled access to attention reinforcement. After steady-state responding occurred, preference for attention and tangibles was assessed within a concurrent schedules design. Extinction was then implemented to disrupt task completion within each component of the multiple schedules design. Results showed modest differences in the persistence of task completion with task completion in the multiple schedules component associated with the delivery of the more preferred reinforcer persisting longest. The modest differences in persistence were smaller than what has previously been shown in the literature. Thus, a follow-up experiment was conducted to evaluate the effect of reinforcer potency on the persistence of task completion. Three participants with a history of engaging in problem behavior to escape from demands participated in Experiment II. After identifying relatively more and less preferred stimuli with a multiple stimulus without replacement (MSWO) preference assessment, a unit price analysis was conducted to evaluate the potency of these two items within a concurrent schedules design. Task completion was then reinforced with the more and less potent reinforcers according to a multiple schedules design. After showing steady-state responding, task completion was disrupted by extinction. Results clearly showed greater persistence of task completion under the component associated with the delivery of the more potent reinforcer for two of three participants. Results from both experiments are discussed in terms of their conceptual and applied implications.
Behavioral Momentum Theory, Noncompliance, Persistence, Quality of Reinforcement
xi, 99 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 94-99).
Copyright 2014 Patrick William Romani