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.


31st Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2005

Event Details

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Symposium #228
CE Offered: BACB
Applying Behavioral Economic Theory in Providing Services to Individuals with Developmental Disabilities
Sunday, May 29, 2005
3:00 PM–4:20 PM
Stevens 1 (Lower Level)
Area: DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: William H. Ahearn (New England Center for Children)
CE Instructor: William H. Ahearn, Ph.D.

This symposium was developed with the intention of bringing to clinicians some research influenced by economic analyses of behavior that might have a significant impact on providing clinical and educational programming to individuals with skill deficits and/or problem behavior. In behavioral economics, reinforcers are treated as commodities, and the environmental contingencies that govern access to those commodities as the price or effort necessary to access a commodity. One indication of the value of behavioral economic principles is the range of topics that they have been applied to. Though the most impressive demonstrations of the utility of behavioral economics have come in the area of drug abuse, it has also been recently applied in two distinct lines of investigation. The first line of research is in establishing more effective reinforcer assessment strategies while the other involves analyzing problem behavior and functional alternatives as substitutes for one and other. The present symposium will discuss the attempts by three groups to translate behavioral economic theory into practical application. Presentations, delivered by William H. Ahearn, Henry S. Roane, and Iser G. DeLeon, will detail several investigations conducted with individuals with developmental disabilities in attempts to translate behavioral economic theory into practical applications.

Applications of Behavioral Economics to Enhancing Performance and Skill Acquisition
WILLIAM H. AHEARN (New England Center for Children), Ruth M. DeBar (New England Center for Children), Christine M. Florentino (New England Center for Children), Kelly K. Collins (New England Center for Children), Kathleen M. Clark (New England Center for Children), William V. Dube (E.K. Shriver Center, University of Massachusetts Medical School)
Abstract: Behavioral economics views behavior as a transaction between the supply of a functional consequence and the demand for that functional consequence. This transaction occurs in an environmental context whereby the amount of reinforcer accessed per unit of time is analyzed with respect to the responding that was emitted for that access. Hursh (1980) presented a comparison of discrepant results from similar studies of responding under schedules of reinforcement. He showed that similar studies obtained different results because of differences in how access to the experimental reinforcers was controlled. When access to reinforcers occurred only during experimental sessions, a closed economy, responding persisted in the face of increases in work requirement. This presentation will describe the effects of closed and open economic conditions on both performance and learning. In two studies, mastered tasks were presented to students with developmental disabilities under both open and closed economic conditions. Generally more responding was observed during the closed economy but exceptions were observed. A third study involved teaching novel leisure skills to children via behavioral chaining. Skill acquisition was more rapid during the closed economic conditions. These results and a brief discussion of the concept of demand will be included in the presentation.Keywords: behavioral economics, supply, reinforcer assessment, skill acquisition
Analysis of Unit Price Within the Context of Reinforcement-Based Programs for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities
HENRY S. ROANE (Marcus Autism Center), Terry S. Falcomata (University of Iowa), Ashley C. Glover (Marcus Autism Center), Robert-Ryan S. Pabico (Marcus Autism Center)
Abstract: Previous research has shown that choice responding is often influenced by the number of responses required to access a reinforcer and by the magnitude of that reinforcer. Within the context of behavioral economics, the ratio of response requirements to reinforcer magnitude is referred to as unit price. Results of several basic and clinical investigations have shown that changes in the unit price of different reinforcers may affect choice responding. In this presentation, we will present data for several on-going lines of research in which unit price modifications have altered response allocation. All analyses were conducted within the context of positive reinforcement-based treatments for problem behavior displayed by individuals with developmental disabilities. The first analysis shows the relative effects of unit price adjustments when identifying highly preferred reinforcers. The second illustrates the influence of price ratios self-control and impulsive responding. The final dataset is an examination of using unit price adjustment to facility the thinning of a differential reinforcement procedure. These results will be discussed in terms of the importance of conducting translational research that examines clinical applications of economic principles.
Functional Similarity, Reinforcer Substitutability, and Elasticity of Demand: Paradoxical Implications for the Treatment of Behavior Disorders?
ISER GUILLERMO DELEON (Johns Hopkins University), Stephanie A. Contrucci Kuhn (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Meagan Gregory (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Lynn G. Bowman (Johns Hopkins University), Melissa Shuleeta (Kennedy Krieger Institute)
Abstract: Function-based interventions for the problem behavior of individuals with developmental disabilities typically involve promoting alternative behaviors that produce reinforcers that are identical or functionally similar to those that maintain the problem behavior. However, some studies have revealed that the effects of these interventions may wane during schedule thinning as the ratio of responses to reinforcers is increased. In behavioral economic analyses, demand for a commodity (reinforcer) is often shown to be a joint function of its price (the number of responses required to produce that reinforcer) and the extent to which concurrently available alternatives are substitutable. Demand is more elastic (e.g., more sensitive to increases in price) when concurrently available commodities are more substitutable. We present a series of preliminary behavioral economic analyses with individuals with developmental disabilities suggesting that (1) demand is more elastic when functionally similar reinforcers are concurrently available (i.e., functionally similar reinforcers are more substitutable), and (2) this may translate into more durable treatment effects when reinforcers that are less substitutable for that which maintains the problem behavior are used during schedule thinning. Thus, under certain conditions, exclusive provision of the functional reinforcer contingent upon an alternative behavior may not always be the best treatment option.



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