Concurrent Operants Treatment of Escape-Maintained Problem Behavior using Random Reinforcement Schedules

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Stephanie Peterson

Second Advisor

Dr. Jennifer McComas

Third Advisor

Dr. Ronald Van Houten

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Alan Poling


concurrent operants, problem behavior, reinforcement schedules, autism


Negative reinforcement has been reported as the most common function of problem behavior for individuals with intellectual disabilities, including those with developmental disabilities and autism (Beavers, Iwata, & Lerman, 2013). The treatment of escape-maintained problem behavior is especially important, as it can interfere with crucial functional-skill development that impacts an individual with disabilities’ long-term success and independence. While there are a variety of evidence-based treatments available for problem behavior maintained by negative reinforcement, many of them have limitations when utilized in applied settings (Geiger, Carr, & LeBlanc, 2010). A main limitation is that many of them utilize extinction, which may be impossible or difficult to implement in some situations. In these situations, there are competing reinforcement schedules available for different response options—or concurrent operants. Interventions based on concurrent operants have a developing literature base that supports their use in applied settings (e.g., Gardner, Wacker, & Boelter, 2009; McComas et al., 2009; Peterson et al., 2009; Davis, Weston, Hodges, Uptegrove, Williams, & Schieltz, 2018). However, these studies have tended to use progressive schedules of reinforcement. The current study evaluated the utility of random schedules of reinforcement within concurrent operant treatments in clinic and classroom settings for children with developmental disabilities who displayed problem behavior maintained by negative reinforcement. One treatment had two concurrent operants (problem behavior and task completion) and the other treatment had three concurrent operants (problem behavior, break requests, and task completion). The effects of the treatment were analyzed to identify whether the random schedule was effective in increasing task engagement and lowering problem behavior. In addition, choice allocation between problem behavior, task engagement, and break requests were evaluated using an alternating treatment with embedded reversal designs. All participants showed marked increases in task engagement and decreases in problem behavior during treatment. For two participants, the treatment that include break requests was more effective than the treatment that did not. For the other two participants, both treatments were equally effective. The results of this study suggest random schedules within concurrent operants treatment may be an effective treatment alternative that increases task engagement and lowers problem behavior, even though problem behavior continues to receive reinforcement.


Fifth Advisor: Dr. Richard Malott

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