Modeling the effects of sensory reinforcers on behavioral persistence with alternative reinforcement

UMMS Affiliation

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center; Shriver Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Mental Disorders


Problem behavior often has sensory consequences that cannot be separated from the target response, even if external, social reinforcers are removed during treatment. Because sensory reinforcers that accompany socially mediated problem behavior may contribute to persistence and relapse, research must develop analog sensory reinforcers that can be experimentally manipulated. In this research, we devised analogs to sensory reinforcers in order to control for their presence and determine how sensory reinforcers may impact treatment efficacy. Experiments 1 and 2 compared the efficacy of differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA) versus noncontingent reinforcement (NCR) with and without analog sensory reinforcers in a multiple schedule. Experiment 1 measured the persistence of key pecking in pigeons, whereas Experiment 2 measured the persistence of touchscreen responses in children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Across both experiments, the presence of analog sensory reinforcers increased the levels, persistence, and variability of responding relative to when analog sensory reinforcers were absent. Also in both experiments, target responding was less persistent under conditions of DRA compared to NCR regardless of the presence or absence of analog sensory reinforcers.

DOI of Published Version



Sweeney MM, Moore K, Shahan TA, Ahearn WH, Dube WV, Nevin JA. Modeling the effects of sensory reinforcers on behavioral persistence with alternative reinforcement. J Exp Anal Behav. 2014 Sep;102(2):252-66. doi: 10.1002/jeab.103. Epub 2014 Aug 17. PubMed PMID: 25130416; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4165513. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of the experimental analysis of behavior

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Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID