SABA 2023 Innovative Student Research, Doctoral Dissertation: Jacqueline DeBartelo

Destructive behaviors can have a substantial impact on the quality of life of individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities by reducing their opportunities for social interactions, increasing the likelihood of more intrusive supports (e.g., restraints, psychotropic medication use, out-of-home placement), and increasing the likelihood of injuries to themselves and others. In this population, differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA) successfully reduces many destructive behaviors; however, resurgence of target behaviors is highly prevalent when conditions for alternative reinforcement worsen. For example, although basic research has demonstrated that higher magnitudes of alternative reinforcement produce more rapid reductions in target responding, higher magnitudes of alterative reinforcement are also associated with more resurgence of target behavior during periods of reinforcement reduction or suspension (Craig et al., 2017). Thus, clinicians may need to consider the risks of using higher magnitudes of reinforcement during DRA because it may increase the probability of resurgence of target behavior when the treatment is disrupted. Jacqueline DeBartelo is interested in identifying the variables controlling the persistence and resurgence of destructive behavior to inform more efficacious and enduring treatments. The 2023 Innovative Student Research Dissertation Grant will assist her in a conducting a translational evaluation of the effects of alternative reinforcer magnitude on the persistence and resurgence of behaviors in a clinical population. Using a human operant preparation, Experiment 1 will systematically replicate the procedures described by Craig et al. (2017) to evaluate the effect of high and low magnitudes of alternative reinforcement on (a) target response persistence during DRA and (b) resurgence of target responding when reinforcement is suspended with a clinical population. Experiment 2 will evaluate whether gradual reductions in alternative reinforcer magnitude during DRA (a) produce resurgence of target responding and (b) mitigate resurgence when reinforcement is subsequently suspended. These findings are important for extending basic research to a clinical population to guide the development of more effective treatments for destructive behavior.

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