Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Special Education and Rehabilitation


Timothy A. Slocum


Behavioral momentum theory proposes that the persistence of behavior when exposed to disruptors provides an appropriate measure of the strength of behavior. Basic research has consistently demonstrated that behaviors that occurred in a context with higher overall rates of reinforcement (rich contexts) were more persistent than other behaviors that have occurred in a context with relatively lower rates of reinforcement (lean contexts). More surprisingly, behavioral momentum theory goes on to assert that this greater persistence in richer contexts is found even when rate of responding is lower in the rich context, and when the greater richness is due to noncontingent reinforcement or reinforcement for alternative responses. If behavioral momentum effects documented in laboratory settings are manifested in applied settings, these procedures may be used to increase the persistence of desirable behaviors or decrease the rate of problem behavior while simultaneously increasing its persistence. However, research on behavioral momentum has primarily been conducted by basic researchers using basic preparations. A key component of research on behavioral momentum is the presence of different contexts (typically signaled by color cues) each associated with a different rate of reinforcement. It is currently unclear if behavioral momentum effects are common in applied settings and if so, what variables determine context in applied settings. Thus, translational research should be conducted to examine the extent to which behavioral momentum theory accurately predicts behavior in applied settings while making systematic extensions to the established basic procedures. The purpose of the current study was to make one such extension that may be particularly important for replication of behavioral momentum research in applied settings. Two therapists functioned as two contexts with each participant to examine the effects of two interventions (i.e., contingent reinforcement with or without additional noncontingent reinforcement). Across participants, different patterns of results were found. In addition, participant responding was only partially disrupted during extinction and distraction phases, suggesting the procedures did not arrange a strong test of behavioral momentum theory. Because extinction did not reduce responding to very low levels, tests of reinstatement do not allow for clear conclusions to be drawn. In addition, patterns of responding did not clearly indicate participants were discriminating contexts. Several potential reasons for the lack of strong effects are discussed and suggestions for follow-up research are presented.


This work made publicly available electronically on August 30, 2010.