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Work, Rewards, and Disruptive Behaviors
Procedures that have been shown to produce counterproductive pausing behaviors in humans and animals will be studied in persons with mental retardation and histories of disruptive behaviors (stereotypy or aggression). These procedures involve the delivery of positive rewards. The subjects earned rewards by working on tasks that involve “rich” conditions (large rewards, frequent rewards, or low-work requirements) and “lean” conditions (smaller rewards, infrequent rewards, or high-work requirements). Tasks that maintain efficient performance will produce abnormal levels of off-task behavior when juxtaposed with a more preferred task. For example, a pigeon will readily make 50 responses to eat for 6 seconds. The bird also will readily make 50 responses to eat for 2 seconds (a “lean” task). If these two tasks are alternated the bird will stop responding for extended periods at the point when the rich task stops and the lean task begins. When task conditions shift from rich to lean, the resulting patterns of behavior bear similarity to those behavior patterns of people when task demands and other environmental factors change abruptly and unfavorably: Responding is interrupted and attention is directed away from the task at hand, even at the cost of delaying or losing the positive consequences of responding. This research is to validate this laboratory model of inattentive, oppositional, & other forms of aberrant behavior that may be motivated by unfavorable shifts in conditions of work and reward. The goal of the proposed research is to adapt our laboratory-based procedures to study processes that may underlie chronic aberrant behavior in persons with MR. The goal is to replicate the laboratory findings in a series of more naturalistic settings. This is a step towards developing a laboratory model of variables that generate disruptive behaviors. The specific aims of the proposed research are: (a) to assess whether signaled shifts to a less favorable task produce extended interruptions in task-related behavior – pausing – in persons with MR and histories of disruptive behaviors (self stimulation in one group, and aggression in another group); and (b) to analyze the role of three factors identified as important in previous research (reward magnitude, task requirements, and signaling the transitions).