JEAB: Contingent Shock Increases Response Rate

By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor,

The presentation of shock contingent on a response should decrease responding, right?  Not necessarily.

A study by Everly and Perone in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior demonstrated that response-dependent shock can actually increase responding.  In fairness, theirs is only one of the latest in a long line of studies showing that shock contingencies can increase response rates.

However, Everly and Perone sought to “clarify the conditions under which shock suppresses or facilitates responding by examining the effects of shock intensity and the IRTs that produce shock.”  For “IRTs” read “Inter-Response Times” or the amount of time between the cessation of one response and the initiation of another.

The authors conducted two experiments.  Both involved a baseline condition in which rats’ lever pressing responses met with food reinforcement on a Variable Interval 40-second schedule.  In other words, the first response after the passage of 40 seconds produced a food reinforcer.

Next came five shock conditions, during which the VI 40-s schedule remained in effect.  However, an additional shock schedule was introduced that produced response-dependent shocks based on a range of IRTs yoked to the rats’ baseline performance.

In the first experiment, the range of possible IRTs was increased before increasing the intensity of shock.  However, in the second experiment, shock intensity was raised before the range of IRTs was increased.

Results suggested that when shock was contingent on longer IRTs, the shock decreased the length of IRTs and increased response rate, with the exception of the highest intensity shock (0.8-mA).  However, when shock was contingent on short IRTs, the shock increased the length of IRTs and decreased response rate.

Do you think Everly and Perone’s study has implications for your work?  Let us know in the comments below! When you do, note that the authors were careful not to describe their shock contingencies as contingencies of reinforcement, even though they produced higher rates of responding.

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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns and  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at [email protected].

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