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Keywords:

  • behavioral momentum theory;
  • resistance to change;
  • extinction;
  • alternative reinforcement;
  • relapse

Behavioral momentum theory provides a quantitative account of how reinforcers experienced within a discriminative stimulus context govern the persistence of behavior that occurs in that context. The theory suggests that all reinforcers obtained in the presence of a discriminative stimulus increase resistance to change, regardless of whether those reinforcers are contingent on the target behavior, are noncontingent, or are even contingent on an alternative behavior. In this paper, we describe the equations that constitute the theory and address their application to issues of particular importance in applied settings. The theory provides a framework within which to consider the effects of interventions such as extinction, noncontingent reinforcement, differential reinforcement of alternative behavior, and other phenomena (e.g., resurgence). Finally, the theory predicts some counterintuitive and potentially counterproductive effects of alternative reinforcement, and can serve as an integrative guide for intervention when its terms are identified with the relevant conditions of applied settings.