Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. James E. Carr

Second Advisor

Dr. Scott T. Gaynor

Third Advisor

Dr. Alan Polling

Fourth Advisor

Dr. John W. Esch


Within the operant conditioning literature, there exists the concept of the functional response class. A functional response class is defined as a collection of responses that all produce the same outcome. If the members of a response class occur in a predictable order, a response-class hierarchy is said to exist. A hierarchy refers to a specific type of response class in which each member of the response class may be temporally determined along various dimensions (e.g., response effort, immediacy of reinforcement, magnitude of reinforcer). The response-class hierarchy has received relatively little conceptual attention over the years and, not surprisingly, there has been very little use of the concept in the applied literature. The goal of the current investigation was to develop a model of a response-class hierarchy such that the phenomenon might be more easily studied. First, participants were taught three behaviors in an attempt to develop a response class (Study 1) ordered along the dimension of response effort. Following response class development, an extinction analysis was used to determine whether the responses existed in a hierarchy (Study 2). Results of Study 1 indicated that a functional response class was developed and that there was a relation between response rate and effort for the established response class. Results of Study 2 indicated that a response-class hierarchy existed within the previously developed response classes for three out of five participants Implications of these results as well as suggestions for future research are discussed.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

Included in

Psychology Commons