This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Assessment of Preference for Qualitatively Different Reinforcers in Persons with Developmental and Learning Disabilities: A Comparison of Value Using Behavioral Economic and Standard Preference Assessment Procedures




Bredthauer, Jennifer

Type of Degree





Standard preference assessment results may have limited generality when schedule requirements are increased, which may compromise treatment efficacy. While standard procedures can provide reliable preference ranks and consistency of ranks, it remains unclear whether currently used preference assessments make accurate predictions about reinforcement effects under varying schedule requirements. Behavioral economic analyses have been used in studies of persons with developmental disabilities; however, a general, systematic and effective method for generating rapid demand curves has not been established. Experiment 1 developed a procedure for data collection that facilitated behavioral economic analyses. Participants responded on a progressively increasing FR schedule to obtain reinforcers during short, intermediate, and long sessions. The results of demand curve analyses suggested the session length, FR schedule progression, amount of reinforcement delivered, duration of the reinforcement interval, and session termination/ratio strain criteria. Behavioral economic procedures from basic research provided novel methods for identification of reinforcers under increasing schedule requirements. The exponential-demand and the linear-elasticity models were successfully fit to the Experiment 2 data. The exponential model provided a single quantitative measure of the essential value of reinforcers independent of their dimensional properties and was able to adequately predict responding for qualitatively different reinforcers. Essential value may be a means of identifying functional reinforcers that may generalize to common treatment situations. Reinforcer rankings among the standard preference and behavioral economic assessments were compared using rank-order correlations. Standard procedures could not adequately predict preference among qualitatively different reinforcers such as edibles and tangibles and were unable to identify the most potent reinforcers under increasing schedule requirements. Behavior economic measures of preference and value from the reinforcer assessment were able to define the relationships among different types of reinforcers and allowed for direct comparisons of preference for food and non-food items. The behavioral economic reinforcer assessment provided information about each participant’s reinforcers that would suggest which items and at what magnitude should be used in treatment settings.