Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Special Education and Rehabilitation

Committee Chair(s)

Sarah E. Bloom, Timothy Slocum


Sarah E. Bloom


Timothy Slocum


Andrew L. Samaha


Thomas S. HIgbee


Courtenay Barrett


Research has demonstrated that function-based interventions are most effective for addressing problem behavior. However, many function-based interventions, such as differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA), rely on extinction procedures. Extinction is not feasible in all cases and can be counter-therapeutic if implemented without optimal treatment integrity. Researchers have successfully implemented DRA without extinction when various parameters of reinforcement (rate, quality, magnitude, immediacy) have been manipulated to favor alternative behavior; however, parameter sensitivity is idiosyncratic and warrants individual assessment. Previous researchers have assessed individual sensitivities to parameters of reinforcement in the context of problem behavior; however, this resulted in problem behavior occurring during assessment, which could be problematic given severe problem behavior. The purpose of this study was to use arbitrary responses to assess individual sensitivities to quality, magnitude, and immediacy of reinforcement that maintains problem behavior and use the results to implement an intervention for problem behavior without extinction.

We conducted individual parameter sensitivity assessments with two individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities who engaged in problem behavior maintained by social positive reinforcement in the form of access to tangibles. The results of the parameter sensitivity assessments indicated that one individual was sensitive to only quality of reinforcement. The second participant was sensitive to all three parameters and subsequently, we conducted a relative parameter sensitivity assessment to determine which parameter was most influential. The results indicated that she was most sensitive to quality and least sensitive to magnitude of reinforcement. Interventions were then implemented to evaluate the effectiveness of parameter manipulations to decrease problem behavior and increase an alternative response (i.e., requesting for the tangible item). The interventions were more effective when the parameter for which the participants were most sensitive (i.e., quality) were manipulated.

In sum, the results of this study indicate that arbitrary responses may be used to identify individual sensitivities to parameters of reinforcement that maintain problem behavior. Additionally, the results of the parameter sensitivity assessments may be used to develop effective interventions for problem behavior without the use of extinction.