Effects of Reinforcer Distribution During Response Elimination on Resurgence of an Instrumental Behavior

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Resurgence has commonly been viewed as the recovery of an extinguished instrumental behavior that occurs when an alternative behavior that has replaced it is also extinguished. Three experiments with rat subjects examined the effects on resurgence of the temporal distribution of reinforcement for the alternative behavior that is presented while the first response is being eliminated. Experiments 1 and 2 examined resurgence when rich rates of reinforcement at the onset of response elimination became leaner over sessions (i.e., forward thinning) and when lean rates became richer (i.e., reverse thinning). Both procedures weakened resurgence compared with that in a group that received the richest rate during all sessions. However, forward thinning was more effective than reverse thinning at reducing the resurgence effect. Experiment 3 found that final resurgence was eliminated when the alternative behavior was reinforced and extinguished in alternating response elimination sessions. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that reinforcer delivery during response elimination provides a contextual stimulus for the extinction of the original behavior; its removal during resurgence testing causes ABC renewal to occur. The results are less consistent with an alternative account that emphasizes the removal of response disruption caused by alternative reinforcement (Shahan & Sweeney, 2011). Other theoretical and applied implications are discussed.

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