A half century of scalloping in the work habits of the United States Congress

Thomas S. Critchfield, Rebecca Haley, Benjamin Sabo, Jorie Colbert, Georgette Macropoulis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


It has been suggested that the work environment of the United States Congress bears similarity to a fixed-interval reinforcement schedule. Consistent with this notion, Weisberg and Waldrop (1972) described a positively accelerating pattern in annual congressional bill production (selected years from 1947 to 1968) that is reminiscent of the scalloped response pattern often attributed to fixed-interval schedules, but their analysis is now dated and does not bear on the functional relations that might yield scalloping. The present study described annual congressional bill production over a period of 52 years and empirically evaluated predictions derived from four hypotheses about the mechanisms that underlie scalloping. Scalloping occurred reliably in every year. The data supported several predictions about congressional productivity based on fixed-interval schedule performance, but did not consistently support any of three alternative accounts. These findings argue for the external validity of schedule-controlled operant behavior as measured in the laboratory. The present analysis also illustrates a largely overlooked role for applied behavior analysis: that of shedding light on the functional properties of behavior in uncontrolled settings of considerable interest to the public.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-486
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of applied behavior analysis
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Bill enactment
  • Fixed-interval schedule
  • U.S. Congress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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