Effects of intermittent punishment on self-injurious behavior: An evaluation of schedule thinning

Dorothea C. Lerman, Brian A. Iwata, Bridget A. Shore, Iser G. DeLeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Although the use of punishment often raises ethical issues, such procedures may be needed when the reinforcers that maintain behavior cannot be identified or controlled, or when competing reinforcers cannot be found. Results of several studies on the effects of intermittent schedules of punishment suggest that therapists must use fairly rich schedules of punishment to suppress problem behavior. However, residential caretakers, teachers, and parents often have difficulty implementing programs that require constant monitoring of the client's behavior. In this study, we examined the feasibility of gradually thinning the delivery of punishment from a continuous schedule to an intermittent schedule during the course of treatment for self-injurious behavior (SIB). Results of functional analyses for 5 individuals who had been diagnosed with profound mental retardation indicated that their SIB was not maintained by social consequences. Treatment with continuous schedules of time-out (for 1 participant) or contingent restraint (for the other 4 participants) produced substantial reductions in SIB. When they were exposed to intermittent schedules of punishment (fixed-interval [FI] 120 s or FI 300 s), SIB for all but 1 of the participants increased to levels similar to those observed during baseline. For these 4 participants, the schedule of punishment was gradually thinned from continuous to FI 120 s or FI 300 s. For 2 participants, SIB remained low across the schedule changes, demonstrating the utility of thinning from continuous to intermittent schedules of punishment. Results for the other 2 participants showed that intermittent punishment was ineffective, despite repeated attempts to thin the schedule.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-201
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Applied Behavior Analysis
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Hand mouthing
  • Intermittent punishment
  • Punishment
  • Self-injurious behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Clinical Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of intermittent punishment on self-injurious behavior: An evaluation of schedule thinning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this