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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Symposium #425
International Symposium - Dynamics of Response Sequences and the Problem of Behavioral Units
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
9:00 AM–10:20 AM
Hong Kong
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Alliston K. Reid (Wofford College)
Abstract: When behavioral patterns are regularly followed by reinforcement, they often become well-learned response sequences. Stability in reinforcement contingencies may encourage the formation of complex, yet stable, behavioral units, whereas changes in contingency promote new behavioral patterns. This session addresses the following questions: (a) how to reliably identify new behavioral units; (b) the multiple roles of discriminative stimuli in producing accurate sequences that will lead to reinforcement; (c) the behavioral patterns produced with changes in contingency when no complex behavioral units have formed; and (d) a new, rapid procedure for identifying complex behavioral units.
Behavioral Units: Separating Sequence-level from Response-level Processes.
ALLISTON K. REID (Wofford College)
Abstract: When simple patterns of behavior are repeatedly followed by reinforcement, new behavioral units sometimes develop. Complex units may consist of multiple lever presses or key pecks. These behavior patterns often represent a self-imposed temporal organization of behavior. At issue is how does reinforcement affect behavior when previously learned responses combine to form new behavioral units? Does reinforcement continue to act directly on the individual response (a response-level process); does it act directly on the behavioral pattern as a new unit of behavior (a sequence-level process); or does reinforcement act at both levels simultaneously? Several techniques have been proposed for identifying these new behavioral units. We show that these techniques are not adequate for the reliable identification of behavioral units because response-level processes can resemble sequence-level processes. Furthermore, the techniques are not able to monitor the development of new units. We provide an alternative technique based on the dynamics of responding that provides more careful monitoring of the behavioral changes occurring as new behavioral units develop.
The Roles of Discriminative Stimuli within Response Sequences.
KIMBERLY A. COLLINS (Wofford College), Alliston K. Reid (Wofford College)
Abstract: This study identified the multiple roles of discriminative stimuli in response sequences when presented individually and in combination. Rats were trained to press four levers in a four-response sequence. On alternating days, a 0.5-s tone followed the first response on alternating trials. On the other days, a 0.5-sec light followed the first response on alternating trials. In the second phase, the tone and light were presented in combination following the first response on alternating trials. Probe trials involving individual or combinations of discriminative stimuli occasionally followed responses at different ordinal positions in the sequence to examine their influence on sequence accuracy. When presented individually after the first response, stimuli improved accuracy of the next response. This effect was stronger when the stimuli were presented in combination. Probe trials indicated that the stimuli influenced more than just the next response in the sequence.
Acquisition of Simple Patterns of Responses.
GUSTAVO BACHA-MENDEZ (National Autonomous University of Mexico), Alliston K. Reid (Wofford College)
Abstract: To discover how simple patterns of responses are influenced by their consequences, six rats received food for producing one of four possible sequences of two responses in an operant conditioning chamber with two levers. For four animals, one sequence was reinforced for the first 50 trials of the session, and a different sequence was reinforced for the last 50 trials. In each session one of 12 possible sequence combinations was used, and this cycle of these 12 sessions was repeated on six occasions. Every sequence had an equal number of opportunities of being reinforced. For a second group of rats, the reinforced sequence was selected at random. This contingency was maintained until one reinforcer was delivered, and the next reinforced sequence was again selected at random. Thus, every sequence received a similar number of reinforcements each session. The frequency distribution of the sequences was different for the two groups. Examination of the dynamics of responding when contingencies were changed revealed processes that acted on individual responses, rather than processes that acted at the level of sequences as complex behavioral units. This procedure promises to be a useful technique for the study of the acquisition of simple behavioral patterns.
Resurgence of Complex Behavioral Units.
GUSTAVO BACHA-MENDEZ (National Autonomous University of Mexico), Alliston K. Reid (Wofford College)
Abstract: Two experiments examined the dynamics of well-learned response sequences when reinforcement contingencies were changed. Both experiments contained four phases, each of which reinforced rats for completing a two-response sequence of lever presses until responding was highly stable. The contingencies were then shifted to a new target sequence until responding was again stable. Extinction-induced resurgence of previously reinforced, and then extinguished, response sequences confirmed that the response sequences had become complex behavioral units. Thus, sequence-level processes controlled behavior. Nevertheless, lower response-level processes were also simultaneously operative because, consistent with earlier studies, errors in sequence production were strongly determined by the terminal, not the initial, response in the reinforced sequence. These studies demonstrate that sequence-level and response-level processes can operate simultaneously in complex behavioral units.



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