Using Reinforcement

In some cases, mere measurement and informative feedback is not enough. A direct form of intervention is required. Therefore the third part of Lindsley's method consists of arranging a contingency involving reinforcement or punishment.

Green and Morrow (1974) offer the following example of Lindsley's Simplified Precision Model in action.

Jay, a twenty-year-old spastic, retarded man urinated in his clothes. A physician had ruled out any organic basis for this behavior. Recently Jay was transferred from a state hospital to a nursing home.... The nursing home director said that Jay must leave if he continued to be enuretic. He agreed, with reservation, to let [a student] try a program to eliminate the wetting behavior.

Conveniently, the nurses had been routinely recording the number of times Jay wet his clothes each day....Jay's daily rate of wets was...plotted on a standardized graph form...

Questionable punishment procedures, insisted upon by the nursing home director, were used in the first two modification phases. First, Jay was left wet for thirty minutes following each wet. Second, Jay was left in his room for the remainder of the day after he wet once. Throughout both punishment phases the median rate remained unchanged.

What to do? Lindsley's step #4 is "if at first you don't succeed, try and try again with revised procedures." That is a rather strange sounding rule, but it proves important. Behavior analysts are not automatically correct in their first assessment of a situation. The first attempt at behavior change may not work. Like other scientists, they must guess and test and try again. In the case of Jay, behavior analysts decided to stop the "questionable punishment procedures" and try positive reinforcement instead.

How does the story of "Jay" illustrate step #4 of Lindsley's procedure?

In a fourth phase, following consultation by the student with the junior author, and with the nursing home director's reluctant consent, Jay was given verbal praise and a piece of candy each time he urinated in the toilet. No punishment was used. Candy and praise were chosen as consequences after discussion with the nursing home personnel disclosed what Jay seemed to "go for." The procedure essentially eliminated wetting.

In an "after" phase (after reinforcements were discontinued), the rate remained at zero except for one lapse. Presumably, approved toilet behavior and nonwetting were now maintained by natural consequences, such as social approval and the comfort of staying dry. (Green & Morrow, 1974, p.47))

Note the "after" phase. Proper intervention procedures also include a follow-up to make sure the change is permanent.


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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey