Behavioral Persistence: Basic, Translational, and Clinical Studies

Research funded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant R01 HD064576

William Dube

Project Principal Investigator: John A. Nevin, University of New Hampshire

Co-Investigator: Dr. William H. Ahearn, New England Center for Children

Behavioral treatment interventions (applied behavior analysis) for problem behavior in individuals with developmental and/or intellectual disabilities often include reinforcement for appropriate alternative behavior. Although reinforcement-based interventions are often effective in reducing the frequency of problem behavior during treatment, there is some clinical evidence that the problem behavior may become more resistant to change over the long term. Increased behavioral persistence after alternative reinforcement has been consistently reported in basic and translational research with animals and humans and is predicted by behavioral momentum theory.

Because behavioral momentum theory separates the factors that determine behavior change during intervention from the factors that determine subsequent persistence, it provides a promising guide to minimizing these effects. The specific aims of this research project are to develop an animal model of problem behavior and conduct studies to isolate variables that determine the effects of alternative reinforcers on the level and persistence of that behavior; to conduct translational studies with children with intellectual and developmental disabilities to test these variables in controlled conditions; and to implement functionally equivalent procedures to address clinically significant problem behavior with children with intellectual and developmental disabilities in treatment settings.

The translational research component of this project will be conducted at UMMS/Shriver IDDRC field laboratories located at The New England Center for Children. Four studies are planned:

(1) Comparing the effects of noncontingent reinforcement (NCR) with explicit reinforcement for functionally equivalent alternative responses (DRA) on the subsequent persistence of behavior;

(2) Varying the rate of alternative reinforcement (DRA) under contingencies that most effectively reduce target behavior while minimizing the expected increase in persistence;

(3) Arranging alternative reinforcement in a separate stimulus situation and evaluating the effect of bringing elements of the alternative reinforcement setting into the treatment setting; and

(4) Arranging contingent access to alternative reinforcement in a separate situation.