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by A. Charles Catania, Ph.D.
Over the history of evolving ABA procedures we’ve come to prefer free reinforcement or alternative reinforcement over extinction and have become less and less dependent on aversive procedures such as punishment to create behavior change. This presentation will consider how and why our practices have evolved further and further away from the dark side. Behavior interventions such as reinforcement, extinction, avoidance and punishment involve (1) contingencies relating behavior to stimuli (reinforcers or punishers) and (2) presentations of those stimuli. In punishment, for example, (1) an aversive event occurs contingent on some behavior, and (2) the aversive event is sometimes presented. These typically have different effects. For example, in punishment (1) the punishment contingency will reduce the likelihood of the punished response, but (2) the presentation of the aversive stimulus may affect emotional behavior such as elicited aggression. These effects of stimuli that occur during contingencies are usually called side effects. Sometimes main and side effects support each other, but they can also have opposing effects, as when, in avoidance or escape procedures, presenting an aversive stimulus produces behavior that interferes with behavior the procedure was designed to reinforce. For example, if we arrange that a rat can escape cold by operating a switch that turns on a heat lamp, getting it to escape may be hard to do because it may huddle in a corner shivering instead of operating the switch. We’ll examine such side-effects, using specific examples to show how they can create difficulties in practical applications for reducing problem behavior and in other types of interventions. These side-effects make sense of the history that has moved us away from the dark side. They explain why, when we try to change behavior with punishment or extinction, the behavior usually changes in the ways we expected, but the changes often produce side-effects that are more than we bargained for.
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Participants will be able to:
- Participants will learn to list the several possible side-effects of punishment.
- Participants will learn to list the several possible side-effects of extinction.
- In described the effects of extinction, participants will be able to distinguish between the effects of breaking a contingency (responses no longer produce reinforcers) and the separate effects of ending the delivery of reinforcers.
- Participants will learn to distinguish between positive and negative reinforcement not on the basis of whether stimuli are presented or removed, but rather based on a behavioral criterion: whether as a side-effect the contingency produces behavior that will compete with the response to be reinforced.
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