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Prevalence of relapse of automatically maintained behavior resulting from context changes

practitioner's review Apr 14, 2022

Prevalence of relapse of automatically maintained behavior resulting from context changes


The occurrence of problem behavior following a successful treatment is something that can occur in the place of an ABA treatment. In fact, I would argue that it is highly likely to occur during the course of treatment. This can be termed, behavioral relapse, and includes things such as resurgence, renewal, and spontaneous recovery. This article specifically focuses on the occurrence of renewal of problem behavior, and specifically, renewal of problem behavior that is reinforced by nonsocial (automatic) sources of reinforcement. Renewal is when problem behavior resumes following a context change. The most common context changes are a change of person and a change of setting. This article found that when examining the automatic sources of reinforcement, renewal occurs about 34% of the time, and is most often following a change in person, not a change in environment. This article does not get into mitigation strategies, but it is likely that other mitigation strategies for social sources of reinforcement will work for this response class. This would include fading and other stimulus transfer procedures.

Research to Practice

In terms of research to practice, the main thing that practitioners can pull from this article is an understanding of prevalence. This article, as well as other, have shown that there is around a 33% chance, across functions, that a behavior will undergo a renewal effect following a context change. Based on this article alone, there is not enough research to look at different treatments, but it is likely that the interventions that work with socially mediated behavior will work with automatically maintained behaviors. Stimulus and context fading, as well as slowly fading in and out people would need to be considered not just for socially maintained behaviors but also automatically maintained behaviors. Overall, a practitioner needs to be very aware of the occurrence of renewal, and work to mitigate the occurrence as much as possible.

Muething, C., Call, N., Ritchey, C. M., Pavlov, A., Bernstein, A. M. & Podlesnik, C. A. (2022). Prevalence of relapse of automatically maintained behavior resulting from context changes. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 55(1), 138-153.

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