Faculty Articles

Impulsivity in Students with Serious Emotional Disturbance: The Interactive Effects of Reinforcer Rate, Delay, and Quality

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1993

Publication Title

Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis





First Page




Last Page



We conducted two studies extending basic matching research on self-control and impulsivity to the investigation of choices of students diagnosed as seriously emotionally disturbed. In Study 1 we examined the interaction between unequal rates of reinforcement and equal versus unequal delays to reinforcer access on performance of concurrently available sets of math problems. The results of a reversal design showed that when delays to reinforcer access were the same for both response alternatives, the time allocated to each was approximately proportional to obtained reinforcement. When the delays to reinforcer access differed between the response alternatives, there was a bias toward the response alternative and schedule with the lower delays, suggesting impulsivity (i.e., immediate reinforcer access overrode the effects of rate of reinforcement). In Study 2 we examined the interactive effects of reinforcer rate, quality, and delay. Conditions involving delayed access to the high-quality reinforcers on the rich schedule (with immediate access to low-quality reinforcers earned on the lean schedule) were alternated with immediate access to low-quality reinforcers on the rich schedule (with delayed access to high-quality reinforcers on the lean schedule) using a reversal design. With 1 student, reinforcer quality overrode the effects of both reinforcer rate and delay to reinforcer access. The other student tended to respond exclusively to the alternative associated with immediate access to reinforcers. The studies demonstrate a methodology based on matching theory for determining influential dimensions of reinforcers governing individuals' choices.



Peer Reviewed

Find in your library