Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Psychological and Quantitative Foundations
Wacker, David P.
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Fifth Committee Member
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.
Noncompliance is a failure to engage in an expected behavior when given a demand; it is a common behavior of concern, and occurs across subgroups, situations, and types of tasks. Noncompliance is often related to escaping or avoiding nonpreferred work tasks, and is associated with a variety of unfavorable outcomes, such as negative affect and decreased learning opportunities. Many common approaches for treating noncompliance involve aversive events, such as prolonged exposure to the nonpreferred situation (i.e., escape extinction) or punishment (e.g., physically guiding the individual to comply).
In the current study, I used an alternative approach to treating noncompliance that involved identifying a person’s preferences and incorporating those preferences into the otherwise nonpreferred work task. In this way, preferences were used to increase motivation to engage in the task. This study was conducted during individual 90 minute outpatient appointments, with individuals referred to a tertiary level behavior clinic because of challenging behavior involving noncompliance. In addition to task engagement, I also measured the amount of happiness indices they displayed, such as smiling and laughing, when preferred stimuli were and were not incorporated into work tasks and leisure activities.
Results showed that all participants complied with their work when their preferences were incorporated into that work. However, the extent to which they appeared happy while working varied across participants, which may provide insight into the specific type of motivation that influenced each participant’s choice to work. This method of using preferences to alter individuals’ motivation to work, and measuring indices of happiness while they work, may have important implications for increasing the likelihood that those individuals will continue to choose to work in the future.
xx, 155 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 135-151).
Copyright © 2016 Jessica Emily Graber
Graber, Jessica Emily. "Preferred contexts as motivating operations for indices of happiness and task engagement." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2016.