SABA 2023 Innovative Student Research, Master’s Thesis: Skylar DeWitt

Skylar’s thesis project aims to compare treatment relapse outcomes (e.g., resurgence) following two differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA) procedures: one which programs for extinction of the target response, and one which does not. While DRA with extinction is one of the most effective and common treatments for problem behavior, there may be instances in which it is not practical or safe to place a behavior on extinction (e.g., attention-maintained self-injury which must be blocked to prevent harm to the client or another individual). Thus, the use of DRA without extinction may be a preferable treatment option in some cases.

     However, the extent to which DRA without extinction interventions are susceptible to resurgence is not fully understood. A greater understanding of the factors contributing to resurgence following DRA treatment variations may increase practitioners’ ability to make
data-driven decisions regarding the strengths and limitations of including (or not including) extinction as a treatment component.

     Much of what we know about resurgence was established as a result of basic laboratory research on topics such as The Matching Law, Behavioral Momentum Theory, and Resurgence as Choice Theory. This study uses a human operant (i.e., translational) model to evaluate this question, as there are concerns with the ethics and feasibility of studying questions related to this form of relapse in settings which are not equipped to manage severe behavior. As such, this study has additional significance in bridging the gap between basic and applied research on resurgence.

The funding provided by this SABA grant will allow Skylar to purchase the equipment necessary to build a human operant lab space on Eastern Michigan University’s campus, recruit study subjects (by way of making monetary donations to a university food pantry as a result of each subject’s participation), and travel to ABAI’s annual convention in 2024 to disseminate her results.

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