An Analysis of Reinforcer Substitutability Using Object Manipulation and Self-Injury as Competing Responses

Bridget A. Shore, Brian A. Iwata, Iser G. DeLeon, Sung Woo Kahng, Richard G. Smith

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75 Scopus citations


The concept of reinforcer substitutability proposes a continuum of interactions among reinforcers in a given situation. At one end of this continuum, reinforcers are substitutable, with one reinforcer being readily traded for another. We conducted an analysis of reinforcers that were substitutable with those produced by self-injurious behavior (SIB). Three individuals with profound developmental disabilities, whose SIB appeared to be maintained by automatic reinforcement, participated. Results of three experiments showed that (a) object manipulation and SIB were inversely related when leisure materials and SIB were concurrently available, with participants showing almost complete preference for object manipulation; (b) attempts to reduce SIB using the preferred objects as reinforcers in differential reinforcement contingencies were unsuccessful for all 3 participants; and (c) participants' preferences for SIB or object manipulation systematically changed when reinforcer cost (the amount of effort required to obtain the object) was varied. Results of the three experiments illustrate the importance of examining interactions among concurrently available reinforcers when conducting reinforcer assessments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-41
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of applied behavior analysis
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Differential reinforcement of other behavior
  • Reinforcer substitutability
  • Self-injurious behavior
  • Stereotypy


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