Displacement of leisure reinforcers by food during preference assessments

Iser G. Deleon, Brian A. Iwata, Eileen M. Roscoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Identification of reinforcers for individuals with developmental disabilities is often based on the outcome of preference assessments in which participants make selections from among a variety of items. We determined the extent to which individuals might show a general preference for food items over leisure items during such assessments and whether leisure items that are "displaced" by food items might nevertheless function as reinforcers. Arrays consisting of food items only and then nonfood items only were presented separately to 14 participants and then were ranked to determine preference. The top selections from these initial assessments were subsequendy combined in a third assessment, and preferences were again established. All but 2 participants showed a general preference for food items, such that selection of nonfood items in the combined arrays was displaced downward relative to selection of nonfoods in the nonfood-only arrays. Two of the participants were exposed to a condition in which a nonfood item was delivered contingent on the occurrence of an adaptive response, and increased rates of responding by both individuals were observed. Results are discussed in terms of limitations posed by using only food items as reinforcers and the resulting need to take precautionary measures when attempting to identify nonfood reinforcers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-484
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Applied Behavior Analysis
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Choice
  • Preference
  • Stimulus preference assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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