Further examina tion of factors that influence preference for positive versus negative reinforcement

Tiffany Kodak, Dorothea C. Lerman, Valerie M. Volkert, Nicole Trosclair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Factors that influence choice between qualitatively different reinforcers (e.g., a food item or a break from work) are important to consider when arranging treatments for problem behavior. Previous findings indicate that children who engage in problem behavior maintained by escape from demands may choose a food item over the functional reinforcer during treatment (DeLeon, Neidert, Anders, & Rodriguez-Catter, 2001; Lalli et al., 1999). However, a number of variables may influence choice between concurrently available forms of reinforcement. An analogue for treatment situations in which positive reinforcement for compliance is in direct competition with negative reinforcement for problem behavior was used in the current study to evaluate several variables that may influence choice. Participants were 5 children who had been diagnosed with developmental disabilities and who engaged in problem behavior maintained by escape from demands. In the first phase, the effects of task preference and schedule of reinforcement on choice between a 30-s break and a high-preference food item were evaluated. The food item was preferred over the break, regardless of the preference level of the task or the reinforcement schedule, for all but 1 participant. In the second phase, the quality of the break was manipulated by combining escape with toys, attention, or both. Only 1 participant showed preference for the enriched break. In the third phase, choice of a medium- or low-preference food item versus the enriched break was evaluated. Three of 4 participants showed preference for the break over the less preferred food item. Results extend previous research by identifying some of the conditions under which individuals who engage in escape-maintained behavior will prefer a food reinforcer over the functional one.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-44
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of applied behavior analysis
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavioral economics
  • Choice
  • Differential reinforcement
  • Escape-maintained behavior
  • Negative reinforcement
  • Positive reinforcement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Applied Psychology


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