Behavioral Persistence: Basic, Translational, and Clinical Studies

Principal Investigator: Iser DeLeon

Clinical applications of reinforcement-based treatments for problem behavior in persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities reduce the frequency of problem behavior by reinforcing an explicit desirable alternative (DRA), making reinforcers contingent on the absence of problem behavior (DRO), or providing reinforcers independently of responding (NCR). Although these methods can be highly effective in reducing the frequency of problem behavior to low levels within the treatment context, they can also have the perverse effect of increasing the persistence of problem behavior if some aspect of the context is altered or if lapses in treatment integrity occur. This clinically problematic outcome is predicted by behavioral momentum theory, which proposes that the frequency and persistence of behavior are separately determined by response-reinforcer contingencies such as DRA, DRO, or NCR, and by the overall rate of reinforcers obtained in the setting (which is increased by presenting alternative reinforcers according to any contingency). This project will evaluate the extent to which different contingencies for presenting alternative reinforcers and the rate of alternative reinforcers contribute to the persistence of problem behavior. In addition, it will develop methods that may reduce the persistence of problem behavior by arranging that desirable alternative behavior is reinforced in a separate setting, elements of which may then be brought into the treatment setting to reduce the frequency of problem behavior, or by making access to that separate setting contingent on the absence of problem behavior.