Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Cynthia J. Pietras

Second Advisor

Dr. Stephanie Peterson

Third Advisor

Dr. Alan Poling

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Timothy Shahan


Resistance to change (RTC) refers to the persistence of behavior when environmental changes disrupt responding. Studies have shown that RTC varies as a function of the reinforcement associated with the context, with higher rates and magnitudes of reinforcement generating greater response persistence. Resistance to change has been shown to be related to reinstatement, or the increase in responding during extinction when responses are followed by noncontingent reinforcement. Little research has investigated whether punishers have equivalent yet opposite effects as reinforcers on response persistence and reinstatement. The present study investigated the effects of electric shock punishment on resistance to change and reinstatement in rats. Six rats were exposed to a multiple reinforcement schedule in which lever pressing was reinforced with food in one component, and reinforced with food and intermittently punished with electric shock during the other component. Punishment conditions were followed by RTC probes during which responding was extinguished. Two types of probes were investigated, one in which punishment was discontinued and one in which punishment remained in effect. Each RTC probe was followed by a reinstatement probe with the same punishment or no-punishment conditions in effect. In the RTC probes with no punishment, there was greater response persistence in the punishment component than in the no-punishment component. During the reinstatement probe with no punishment, greater rates of responding occurred in the component previously associated with punishment. Conversely, during RTC probes with punishment, response rates quickly decreased and response rates in four rats showed no differential effects across components. Two rats showed less resistance to change in components previously associated with punishment. During reinstatement with punishment probes, only one rat less responding in component associated with punishment; the others showed no clear difference across components. Although data from the RTC and reinstatement probes without punishment suggest that punishers increase resistance to change and reinstatement, the results are more likely attributable to the temporary recovery from punishment that occurred when punishers were removed. The varied results with RTC with punishment probes may be attributable to sequence effects, but data from two rats provide some evidence that punishers decrease resistance to change. This finding, if replicated, would support theoretical interpretations of punishment that suggest that punishment has equivalent but opposite effects of reinforcement. Future research investigating RTC and reinstatement with noncontingent electric shock, or research with different RTC probe types, is needed to better examine the effects of aversive stimuli on resistance to change and reinstatement without the interactions caused by removing or sustaining punishment during extinction.

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Dissertation-Campus Only

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