Date of Award:

5-2013

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

Thimothy A. Shahan

Abstract

Interventions based on a token economy effectively reduce problematic behavior. Yet, treatment gains deteriorate once an intervention is discontinued. It is important to better understand the persistence of behavior maintained by token reinforcement in simple experimental procedures. A Pavlovian association with primary reinforcement is said to endow neutral stimuli (e.g., coins, poker chips, lights, signs, stickers, etc.) with their own function to strengthen behavior as conditioned reinforcers. Behavioral momentum theory suggests that resistance to change under conditions of disruption is the appropriate measure of response strength. However, some animal studies have suggested that conditioned reinforcement may not affect resistance to change of a response. Here, a novel token reinforcement procedure was developed to investigate the resistance to change of responding maintained by token reinforcement. Pigeons responded on a key to produce tokens displayed on a touchscreen monitor in two signaled token-production components. Tokens accumulated over the two production components prior to a common exchange component where pecks to the tokens on the touchscreen produced food reinforcement. Resistance to change of responding maintained by different rates of token reinforcement was assessed by disrupting baseline token-production responding with presession feeding. Token reinforcement rates had inconsistent effects on baseline token-production response rates. However, small effects of token reinforcement rate on resistance to change were found. Results provide weak support for a response-strengthening account of conditioned reinforcement and insightful directions for future studies of token reinforcement in related procedures.

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