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Resurgence of a target behavior suppressed by a combination of punishment and alternative reinforcement

Nall, Rusty W., Rung, Jillian M., Shahan, Timothy A.
Behavioural processes 2019 v.162 pp. 177-183
behavior problems, extinction, nose, pellets, rats
Differential-reinforcement-based treatments involving extinction of target problem behavior and reinforcement of an alternative behavior are highly effective. However, extinction of problem behavior is sometimes difficult or contraindicated in clinical settings. In such cases, punishment instead of extinction may be used in combination with alternative reinforcement. Although it is well documented that omitting alternative reinforcement can produce recurrence (i.e., resurgence) of behavior previously suppressed by extinction plus alternative reinforcement, it remains unclear if resurgence similarly occurs for behavior previously suppressed by punishment plus alternative reinforcement. The present experiment examined this question with rats. In Phase 1, a target behavior (lever pressing) was reinforced with food pellets. In Phase 2, the target behavior continued to be reinforced, but it also produced mild foot shock and an alternative behavior (nose poking) also produced food. Finally, all consequences were removed and resurgence of target behavior occurred. Resurgence did not occur for another group that similarly received punishment of target behavior in Phase 2 but not alternative reinforcement. These results indicate that resurgence was a product of the history of exposure to and then removal of alternative reinforcement and that the removal of punishment alone did not produce resurgence of target behavior.