Modeling the effects of sensory reinforcers on behavioral persistence with alternative reinforcement

Mary M. Sweeney, Keira Moore, Timothy A. Shahan, William H. Ahearn, William V. Dube, John A. Nevin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Problem behavior often has sensory consequences that cannot be separated from the target response, even if external, social reinforcers are removed during treatment. Because sensory reinforcers that accompany socially mediated problem behavior may contribute to persistence and relapse, research must develop analog sensory reinforcers that can be experimentally manipulated. In this research, we devised analogs to sensory reinforcers in order to control for their presence and determine how sensory reinforcers may impact treatment efficacy. Experiments 1 and 2 compared the efficacy of differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA) versus noncontingent reinforcement (NCR) with and without analog sensory reinforcers in a multiple schedule. Experiment 1 measured the persistence of key pecking in pigeons, whereas Experiment 2 measured the persistence of touchscreen responses in children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Across both experiments, the presence of analog sensory reinforcers increased the levels, persistence, and variability of responding relative to when analog sensory reinforcers were absent. Also in both experiments, target responding was less persistent under conditions of DRA compared to NCR regardless of the presence or absence of analog sensory reinforcers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)252-266
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the experimental analysis of behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Automatic reinforcement
  • Children with intellectual disability
  • Key peck
  • Persistence
  • Pigeons
  • Screen touch
  • Sensory reinforcement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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