Dishabituation of operant responding in preschool-aged children

Motivational variables are a key factor in determining if a stimulus will function as reinforcement for a behavior. In behavior analysis, motivational variables are conceptualized as motivating operations (Laraway, Snycerski, Michael, & Poling, 2003), the most basic of which are deprivation and satiation; however, basic research has suggested that habituation and sensitization may play a role in regulating the efficacy of reinforcement (Kenzer, Ghezzi, & Fuller, 2013; McSweeney & Murphy, 2009). The procedure used to test for habituation was the dishabituation procedure. Given the widespread use of direct reinforcement procedures in applications of Behavior Analysis to bring about socially significant behavior change, this procedure could be useful to practitioners. Specifically, it may give practitioners working with individuals, such as those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, who have a limited range of reinforcers, some options to prolong or recover the effectiveness of reinforcing stimuli or events. The current study examined the effects of a dishabituation procedure on a simple operant task performed by typically developing children, using antecedent and consequence stimulus changes that would be common in a range of clinical applications. Results indicated that 2 out of 3 participants reliably showed stimulus specificity and dishabituation patterns following the stimulus manipulations and habituation with no stimulus specificity or dishabituation during control conditions.