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Keywords:

  • aggression;
  • disruption;
  • extinction;
  • intermittent reinforcement;
  • partial-reinforcement extinction effect;
  • reinforcement schedule;
  • resistance to extinction;
  • self-injurious behavior

Results of basic research have demonstrated that behavior maintained on an intermittent schedule of reinforcement (INT) will be extinguished more slowly than behavior maintained on a continuous schedule (CRF). Although these findings suggest that problem behaviors may be difficult to treat with extinction if they have been maintained on INT rather than on CRF schedules, few applied studies have examined this phenomenon with human behavior in clinical settings. The purpose of this study was to determine whether problem behavior maintained on CRF schedules would be extinguished more rapidly than behavior maintained on INT schedules. Three individuals diagnosed with profound mental retardation participated after results of pretreatment functional analyses had identified the sources of reinforcement that were maintaining their self-injury, aggression, or disruption. Subjects were exposed to extinction following baseline conditions with CRF or INT schedules alternated within reversal or multielement designs. Results suggested that problem behaviors may not be more difficult to treat with extinction if they have been maintained on INT rather than CRF schedules. However, switching from an INT to a CRF schedule prior to extinction may lower the baseline response rate as well as the total number of responses exhibited during extinction.