Date of Award:

2015

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Special Education and Rehabilitation

Advisor/Chair:

Sarah E. Bloom

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Timothy A. Slocum

Abstract

Escape from instructional demands is one of the most common functions of problem behavior. Some research suggests that a switch from difficult to easy tasks may function as a reinforcer for problem behavior. This is of particular concern for situations in which easy tasks are part of the intervention procedure to reduce problem behavior. This project examined the reinforcing effects of a switch from low-probability (low-p) to high-probability (high-p) tasks for individuals whose problem behavior was maintained by escape from demands. It also provided preliminary evidence as to the quality of reinforcement provided by a switch from low- high-p tasks. Three individuals with disabilities who were referred for treatment of escape-maintained problem behavior participated in this research. We used a multi-element design to compare the effects of two intervention conditions on problem behavior and compliance in relation to control and baseline conditions. During the control condition, no demands were presented, and the participant had continuous access to preferred items and attention. In the baseline condition (break), a break from low-p demands was presented contingent on problem behavior. In the first intervention condition, problem behavior no longer resulted in a break from demands (escape extinction). During the second intervention condition, problem behavior following low-p tasks resulted in a switch to high-p tasks. All participants engaged in elevated levels of problem behavior and decreased compliance when problem behavior resulted in a switch of tasks. These results imply that for individuals whose problem behavior is maintained by escape from demands, a switch from low- to high-p tasks may reinforce problem behavior.

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