Division 25 of the American Psychological Association Awards
The B. F. Skinner Foundation sponsors a Young Research Award for innovative and important research in behavior analysis conducted within the first five years of receiving a doctorate.
Recent Advances in Operant Conditioning Technology
Brian D. Kangas
Harvard Medical School
Abstract: Experimental analysts of behavior have made many of their most important advances through the empirical validation of behavioral methods and apparatus development. To compete successfully in these times of scant support and funding, we must continue in this tradition, and with a strong emphasis on collaborative endeavors. This proposition is supported by an overview of my research program using a novel apparatus and set of procedures recently developed to assess the effects of CNS drugs on complex behavioral processes. The effects of abused drugs on complex behavior are arguably some of the most important and least understood. So the first aim was to gain a better understanding of how drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and the prescription opioids, for example, affect learning, memory, vigilance, and other behavior. Working closely with medicinal chemists, a second purpose was to devise a means to evaluate the potential side-effects of candidate therapeutics. Here, unlike abused drugs which often have deleterious effects on performance, demonstrating a reliable null effect can serve as an important preclinical evaluation of a novel pharmacotherapy’s safety. To accomplish these aims, I built and empirically validated a touchscreen apparatus designed to assess a variety of behavioral endpoints in squirrel monkeys. Modern touch-sensitive technology has allowed an extremely flexible means to expose the monkeys to multiple assays, sometimes within a single session. Studying the squirrel monkey, indeed a valuable resource, has obvious translational value. Given their relatively high intelligence, long lifespan, and sophisticated visual system, we have been able to train complex behavioral repertoires in these animals that have proven to be sensitive to the effects of a variety of drugs. Endeavors of this sort not only serve to expand the authority of the behaviorist through collaborative work but, importantly, offer additional opportunities to study and understand basic behavioral processes.
Basic Research: Matthew T. Weaver, Mercyhurst University
Applied Research: Claudia L. Dozier, University of Kansas
Basic Research: Ryan Ward, Columbia University
Matt Normand, University of the Pacific
Title: Battling the Bulge: Future Directions for Behavioral Research on Obesity
Abstract: Obesity is a significant public health concern and is largely the result of two behavioral factors: eating and physical activity. Despite the importance of the problem and the clear role behavior plays in causing it, one can argue that very little is known about the relationship of eating and activity to overweight and obesity, at least in a clinical sense. The research and practice in the areas of obesity prevention and treatment are dominated by inadequate measurement strategies, most involving self-reports of behavior. Moreover, little to no research has experimentally assessed the environmental variables that are functionally related to eating and activity. In this talk, I discuss some of the problems facing researchers trying to accurately measure eating and activity in “free living” conditions and describe the research from my lab that is addressing the problems of measurement and assessment so as to better inform interventions designed to prevent and treat overweight and obesity, especially in children. I argue that behavior analytic approaches to research and intervention, refined over the years with a variety of populations and across a range of problems, are well suited to advance research on, and interventions for, obesity.
Christopher A. Podlesnik, The University of Auckland
Title: Stimulus context and resistance to change
Abstract: Challenges to the treatment of any undesirable behavior often are the persistence and likelihood of reoccurrence (i.e., relapse). The present studies explored in animal models how contextual stimuli mediate the persistence and relapse of positively reinforced behavior. Arranging alternative sources of reinforcement within the stimulus context decreased target responding, consistent with treatments directed toward decreasing problem behavior. However, resistance to extinction and the relapse of target responding also was greater in stimulus contexts presenting alternative reinforcement. Finally, we explored a method to circumvent enhancing the target response while still reducing its frequency. Responding was maintained in three mutually exclusive stimulus contexts, two of which maintained different responses in separate stimulus contexts. In a third, a separate response was reinforced in the same context as a target response, modelling a differential-reinforcement-of-alternative-behaviour (DRA) schedule. The overall reinforcement rate in the DRA context was equal to the sum of the separate stimulus contexts. Combining the separate stimulus contexts during extinction reduced resistance to change of target responding relative to in the DRA context. Therefore, training alternative responses in separate contexts circumvents enhancing the persistence of undesirable behavior observed with methods standard for decreasing problem behavior. Moreover, these findings elucidate reinforcement conditions contributing to the persistence and relapse of behavior and provide a framework from which interventions for problem behavior might be developed.
Paul Soto of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was selected to receive the Basic Research Award based on his research in the area of quantitative analysis. Paul received his Ph.D. from Emory University.
Michael Kelley of The University of Southern Maine was selected to receive the Applied Research Award based on his research in the areas of functional analysis and treatment of severe problem behavior and language development. Michael received his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University.