Center for Health Policy and Research (CHPR) Publications


Contextual influences on resistance to disruption in children with intellectual disabilities

UMMS Affiliation

Shriver Center; Center for Health Policy and Research; Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Adolescent; Child; Discrimination (Psychology); Education of Intellectually Disabled; Female; Humans; Intellectual Disability; Male; *Reinforcement (Psychology); Reinforcement Schedule; Young Adult


Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology


Training context can influence resistance to disruption under differing reinforcement schedules. With nonhumans, when relatively lean and rich reinforcement schedules are experienced in the context of a multiple schedule, greater resistance is found in the rich than the lean component, as described by behavioral momentum theory. By contrast, when the schedules are experienced in separated blocks of sessions (i.e., as single schedules), resistance is not consistently greater in either component. In the current study, two groups of 6 children with intellectual disabilities responded to stimuli presented in relatively lean or rich components. For both, reinforcers were delivered according to the same variable-interval reinforcement schedule; additionally, the rich component included the delivery of response-independent reinforcers. The Within group was trained on a multiple schedule in which lean and rich components alternated regularly within sessions; the Blocked group was trained on two single schedules in which sessions with either the lean or rich schedule were conducted in successive blocks. Disruption tests presented a concurrently available alternative stimulus disrupter signaling the availability of tangible reinforcers. All 6 Within participants showed greater resistance to disruption in the rich component, consistent with behavioral momentum theory. By contrast, there was no consistent or significant difference in resistance for Blocked participants. This finding is potentially relevant to the development of interventions in applied settings, where such interventions often approximate single schedules and include response-independent reinforcers.

DOI of Published Version



Lionello-Denolf KM, Dube WV. Contextual influences on resistance to disruption in children with intellectual disabilities. J Exp Anal Behav. 2011 Nov;96(3):317-27. doi: 10.1901/jeab.2011.96-317. PubMed PMID: 22084493; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3212999. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of the experimental analysis of behavior

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed