By Sara Peck, 2021 Innovative Student Research Grant, Doctoral
Sara Peck earned her BA in psychology from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), where she was a research assistant to Dr. Tom Byrne. She is currently a Ph.D. student at Utah State University, working with Dr. Gregory J. Madden. Sara’s primary areas of research include reducing effort- and delay-based impulsive choice, identifying underlying mechanisms of successful reductions in impulsive choice, and translating laboratory successes to clinical settings.
The awarded SABA grant will support an experiment examining the effects of exposure to high-effort contingencies on effort-based decision-making in children with ADHD. The inability to sustain effortful, goal-directed behavior is a symptom of ADHD. Individuals with ADHD differ from control populations on task persistence assessments and decision-making tasks. Persistence deficits in the academic setting are specifically identified as a clinical barrier for individuals with ADHD. Studies with humans and nonhumans have shown that exposure to high-effort contingencies (i.e., high-effort training) can increase generalized persistence and effortful tendencies.
Participants will be assigned to high-effort training or a control condition. High-effort training will involve multiple effort tasks and a terminal variable ratio 12 schedule. Effects of training will be assessed on a mirror-tracing persistence task, an effort-based impulsive choice task, and an academic assignment. Compared to the control condition, high-effort training is expected to increase task persistence (i.e., latency to quit a mirror-tracing task) and preference for high-effort, high reward choices in an effort-based impulsive choice task. High-effort training is also expected to improve academic on-task behavior, assignment completion, and latency to quit an academic assignment.
If this study is successful, future research may evaluate longer-term application of persistence interventions for children with ADHD in more naturalistic settings (e.g., classrooms). Sara would like to thank the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis for funding her dissertation research, and her current and past mentors for their support and guidance.