2020: Carolyn Ritchey

Auburn University

Carolyn Ritchey is a graduate student working in the Translational and Applied Behavioral Science Lab at Auburn University under the direction of Dr. Chris Podlesnik. Her thesis project will introduce a novel and interdisciplinary laboratory procedure for directly examining the role of response effort in resurgence. Resurgence is a laboratory model of how relapse occurs following successful treatment with differential reinforcement-based procedures, which are highly effective in achieving initial reductions in problem behavior such as aggression or self-injury, but these behaviors are susceptible to resurgence during changes in treatment conditions. For example, resurgence occurs when reducing or eliminating reinforcement for an alternative response (e.g., asking for a break) increases an extinguished target response (e.g., hitting to escape task demands).


Problem behavior and alternative responses often differ in response effort (e.g., hitting may be more effortful than requesting a break). The proposed project will incorporate techniques and equipment from a kinesiology laboratory to manipulate individuals’ response effort in a choice task. University students will serve as participants, responding on handheld force transducers. The force (effort) required to produce points exchangeable for monetary reinforcers will differ across response options. Force output and variability of force produced during contingency changes (simulating changes in treatment conditions) will be examined. The project includes two experiments, each using a group design and multilevel modeling techniques to characterize the degree to which the group means apply to individuals.


Specific aims:


(1) Reveal the role of effort in resurgence of a target response following removal of all reinforcers (Experiment 1). We hypothesize that greater effort requirements for a target response versus an alternative will decrease the magnitude of resurgence of the target response following removal of reinforcers for both responses.


(2) Reveal the role of effort in resurgence of a target response during continued treatment (Experiment 2). It is often desirable to increase the complexity of an alternative response following successful treatment (e.g., requiring “Can I have a break, please?” instead of “break”). We hypothesize that increasing effort for an alternative response will increase the magnitude of resurgence of the target response despite unchanged alternative reinforcement contingencies.


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