Delivering alternative reinforcement in a distinct context reduces its counter-therapeutic effects on relapse

Andrew R. Craig, Paul J. Cunningham, Mary M. Sweeney, Timothy A. Shahan, John A. Nevin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Delivery of alternative reinforcers in the presence of stimuli previously associated with reinforcement for target behavior increases the susceptibility of target behavior to relapse. To explore contingencies that might mitigate this counter-therapeutic effect, we trained pigeons on a procedure that entailed extinction of previously reinforced target-key pecking, access to a distinct stimulus context contingently on refraining from target behavior (differential-reinforcement-of-other-behavior; DRO), and reinforcement of alternative-key pecks (differential-reinforcement of alternative behavior; DRA) in that context. This DRO-DRA treatment was compared with standard DRA in successive conditions, counterbalanced across pigeons. Target behavior extinguished more rapidly in the Standard-DRA condition. When alternative reinforcement was discontinued, however, there was less resurgence after DRO-DRA than after Standard DRA. In a third condition, the DRO contingency was suspended so that the former DRA stimuli were not presented (DRO-NAC), and resurgence was greater than in the Standard-DRA and DRO-DRA conditions. Reinstatement produced by response-independent reinforcers was small and similar across conditions. Subsequent reacquisition of target-key pecking under baseline reinforcement conditions was faster following DRO-NAC than Standard-DRA or DRO-DRA. These findings suggest that DRO-DRA might serve as a useful method in clinical settings for reducing problem behavior while minimizing the threat of posttreatment relapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)492-505
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the experimental analysis of behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2018


  • alternative reinforcement
  • differential reinforcement of other behavior
  • pigeons
  • reinstatement
  • resurgence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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