Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Timothy A. Shahan


Behavioral momentum theory states that resistance to change of operant behavior is governed by the Pavlovian stimulus-reinforcer relation in a given discriminative stimulus situation. That is, higher reinforcer rates in the presence of a discriminative stimulus result in a stronger stimulus-reinforcer relation and, thereby, greater resistance to change. Within the momentum-based quantitative framework of resistance to change, the construct relating persistence to pre-disruption reinforcer rates is termed “behavioral mass.” All research on which momentum theory is based has examined resistance to change following prolonged exposure to stable reinforcer rates in multiple schedules of reinforcement. Thus, at present little is known about the time frame over which behavioral mass accumulates or the manner by which newly experienced stimulus reinforcer relations are incorporated into mass when these rates change. The experiments described in this dissertation aimed to clarify these facets of the construct. Chapters 1 and 2 provide a detailed overview behavioral momentum theory and resistance to change. Topics discussed include quantitative models of resistance to change, clinical implications of resistance-to-change research, some notable limitations of behavioral momentum theory, and extensions of the theory to account for diverse behavioral outcomes. A recently published study is presented in Chapter 3 that aimed to determine how resistance to change and behavioral mass of pigeons’ key pecking adapts in the face of stimulus-reinforcer relations that change across time during baseline. Results suggest that resistance to change is a function of recently experienced stimulus-reinforcer relations and that behavioral mass depends most heavily on these recent experiences. The experiment described in Chapter 4 extended the findings reported in Chapter 3 by examining whether behavioral mass changes during operant extinction. Pre-exposure to extinction in an alternative multiple-schedule component decreased resistance to extinction of target-component key pecking relative to conditions without pre-exposure to extinction. Between-condition differences in extinction were well accounted for quantitatively by either variation in behavioral mass or changes in the magnitude of factors that are assumed to disrupt responding during extinction. Chapter 5 offers an integrative discussion of this research and emphasizes theoretical implications, practical applications, and areas for future research.



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