Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


32nd Annual Convention; Atlanta, GA; 2006

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #329
CE Offered: BACB

On the Utility of the Concept of Automatic Reinforcement in Applied Behavior Analysis

Monday, May 29, 2006
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
Centennial Ballroom II
Area: DDA; Domain: Applied Research
CE Instructor: Melissa L. Olive, Ph.D.
Chair: Kent Johnson (Morningside Academy)
TIMOTHY R. VOLLMER (University of Florida)
Dr. Timothy R. Vollmer received his Ph.D. from the University of Florida in 1992. From 1992 until 1996 he was on the psychology faculty at Louisiana State University. From 1996 to 1998 he was on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. He returned to the University of Florida in 1998 and is now an Associate Professor of Psychology and recently was named Research Foundation Professor. His primary area of research is applied behavior analysis, with emphases in developmental disabilities, reinforcement schedules, and parenting. He has published over 80 articles and book chapters related to behavior analysis. He was the recipient of the 1996 B.F. Skinner New Researcher award from the American Psychological Association (APA). He received another APA award in August, 2004 for significant contributions to applied behavior analysis. Currently, he is principal investigator for a collaborative project with the Florida Department of Children and Families, teaching parenting skills to foster parents. In addition, his research in developmental disabilities runs the basic-to-applied gamut with studies in an operant rat lab, a human operant lab, and school-based assessments and treatments of behavior disorders.

Automatic reinforcement refers to (positive or negative) reinforcement in the absence of social mediation. Despite early discussions of automatic reinforcement by Skinner and other eminent behaviorists (e.g., Michael), the concept of automatic reinforcement was not widely discussed or incorporated into applied research until the last couple of decades or so. Now, the notion of automatic reinforcement is widespread in applied research and practice. The presenter will show data reflecting the increasing trend of studies on automatic reinforcement. A result of the recent proliferation of research is that we now have enough data to at least begin exploring questions about the utility of the automatic reinforcement concept. While discussing a range of advantages and disadvantages of the concept, the presenter will reach two very general conclusions: 1. The concept of automatic reinforcement is useful because it draws attention to the fact that not all reinforcement is socially mediated, but 2. The concept of automatic reinforcement is limiting when and if it detracts from an analysis of specific stimuli and events that may function as reinforcement.




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