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(solution) NUMBER 1980, 131, 101-117 ESCAPE AS A FACTOR IN THE


Summarize the article "Escape as a factor in the aggressive behavior of two retarded children". 


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NUMBER

 

1980, 131, 101-117

 

ESCAPE AS A FACTOR IN THE AGGRESSIVE

 

BEHAVIOR OF TWO RETARDED CHILDREN JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS 1 (SPRING 1980) EDWARD G. CARR, CRIGHTON D. NEWSOM, AND JODY A. BINKOFF

 

STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT STONY BROOK AND

 

SUFFOLK CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER This study sought to identify some of the variables controlling the severely aggressive

 

behavior of two retarded children. In Experiment 1, each child was presented with several demand and nondemand situations. Aggression was frequent in the demand situations and rare in the nondemand situations. When a stimulus correlated with the termination of demands was introduced, aggression fell to a near zero level. In Experiment 2,

 

for one child, a variety of preferred reinforcers was introduced into the demand situation

 

contingent on correct responding. Aggression abruptly decreased to a low level. Experiments 3 and 4 involved the second child. In Experiment 3, this child was permitted, in

 

one condition, to leave the demand situation if he emitted a nonaggressive response.

 

Aggression decreased to a low level. In Experiment 4, he was prevented, in one condition, from leaving the demand situation in spite of high levels of aggression. Aggression fell to a near zero level. In Experiments 3 and 4, he was permitted, in several

 

conditions, to leave the demand situation following aggressive behavior. Aggression increased to a high level. The results suggested that: (1) aggression can sometimes function as an escape response; and (2) escape-motivated aggression can be controlled by:

 

(a) introducing strongly preferred reinforcers to attenuate the aversiveness of the demand situation; (b) strengthening an alternative, nonaggressive escape response; or (c)

 

using an escape-extinction procedure.

 

DESCRIPTORS: aggressive behavior, escape, reinforcement, extinction, retarded children No human behavior arouses more social concern than that of aggression. At the level of

 

the individual child, high-frequency aggressive

 

behavior often has the effect of disrupting normal family functioning as well as making the

 

child unteachable in school. Because of these

 

negative effects, many aggressive children are taken out of the mainstream of society and

 

placed in institutions. The absence of treatment

 

in many of these institutions is a particularly

 

serious shortcoming in the light of evidence

 

showing that aggressive children often mature

 

into aggressive adults (Robins, 1966).

 

Because of the above danger, researchers

 

have focused much effort on trying to isolate

 

the factors responsible for the maintenance of

 

aggression in children. Thus, Patterson, Littman, and Bricker (1967) demonstrated that

 

the aggressive behaviors of nursery school children generally received high levels of positive

 

reinforcement from those children against whom

 

the aggression was directed. The reinforcement

 

typically took the form of the victim's giving

 

up his toy or displaying various defensive postures. Reinforcement from adults has also been

 

implicated as a factor in the maintenance of

 

aggression in children, particularly when it takes This investigation was supported in part by

 

U.S.P.H.S. Biomedical Research Support Grant 5 S07

 

RR07067-11 to S.U.N.Y. at Stony Brook. Portions

 

of the paper were presented at the annual meeting

 

of the American Psychological Association, Toronto,

 

Canada, August 1978, and at the annual meeting of

 

the Association for the Advancement of Behavior

 

Therapy, Chicago, Illinois, December 1978. The authors thank their undergraduate assistants, especially

 

Marti White and Dominic Squittiere, for help with

 

data collection. We also thank Martin Hamburg, Executive Director, Suffolk Child Development Center,

 

for his generous support. Requests for reprints should

 

be sent to Edward Carr, Department of Psychology,

 

State University of New York, Stony Brook, New

 

York 11794.

 

101 EDWARD G. CARR et al. the form of maternal attention delivered contingent on the emission of aggressive acts (Hawkins, Peterson, Schweid, & Bijou, 1966). Restructuring the environment so that aggressive

 

behavior is no longer followed by the usual

 

social reinforcers has proven to be a potent

 

means of controlling this problem behavior

 

(Brown & Elliott, 1965; Burchard & Tyler,

 

1695; Hamilton, Stephens, & Allen, 1967;

 

Wolf, Risley, & Mees, 1964). Finally, vicarious

 

positive reinforcement of aggressive acts has

 

also been identified as an important factor in

 

the maintenance of aggression, affecting the behavior in much the same way as direct reinforcement (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963).

 

There are indications in the literature that

 

aggressive behavior may be maintained by factors other than positive reinforcement. In particular, several investigators have implied that

 

aggression may sometimes function as an escape

 

response to terminate demands or other aversive

 

stimuli (Ludwig, Marx, Hill, & Browning,

 

1969; Patterson, Littman, & Bricker, 1967). To

 

date, however, there have been no systematic

 

experimental studies of the possible role of escape factors in the maintenance of aggression.

 

It would be useful to know what the effects of

 

such factors might be, both from the standpoint of broadening our understanding of the

 

variables maintaining aggressive behavior as

 

well as from the standpoint of clinical treatment.

 

In the present paper, we present a detailed,

 

functional analysis of the behavior of two retarded children whose aggression appeared to be

 

motivated primarily by escape factors. boy had a diagnosis of mental retardation with

 

autistic features. Both children were untestable

 

on standard intelligence tests. However, Bob

 

had a social age of 3.3 yr on the Vineland Social Maturity Scale and Sam scored 2.3 yr on the

 

same scale. Both children were nonverbal and

 

understood only simple commands. Neither initiated social interactions but would typically sit

 

on the floor engaging in self-stimulatory behaviors, especially hand-gazing.

 

Bob's aggression began when he was 5 yr

 

old and took the form of scratching, hitting,

 

kicking, and biting. The behavior occurred with

 

enough force to draw blood and produce bruises

 

on his victims, who were almost always adults.

 

Treatment of his aggression with drugs (Thorazine, Stelazine, Mellaril) was ineffective. Bob

 

was referred to us by his teachers who complained that he became totally unmanageable

 

when even a minimal demand, such as having

 

to sit in a chair, was placed upon him.

 

Sam's aggression began when he was 6 yr old

 

and consisted of pinching, hair pulling, and

 

scratching, again directed almost exclusively at

 

adults. Several treatments for his aggression,

 

including drug intervention (Phenerganfortis),

 

timeout, and the Feingold diet (Feingold, 1975),

 

had been tried without success. Like Bob, Sam

 

was referred by his teacher who reported that

 

all attempts at instruction met with aggressive

 

behavior.

 

Setting and recording technique. Sessions with

 

Bob were conducted 5 days per week in a 3.0by 2.5--m room on his ward. Two chairs were

 

placed facing each other .4 m apart on one side

 

of the room, one for Bob and one for the experimenter. The experimenter wore protective

 

EXPERIMENT 1

 

clothing, consisting of a thick corduroy coat and

 

In Experiment 1, we examined the effects of rubber gloves. On the opposite side of the room

 

a simple demand situation on the aggressive be- were a table and two chairs for the observers.

 

havior of two retarded children.

 

The observers used prepared data sheets to tally

 

the frequency of aggressive responses over 1-min

 

Method

 

intervals during each 5-min session. The folSubjects. Bob was a 14-yr-old who lived in lowing behaviors were defined as aggressive:

 

a state institution. Sam was a 9-yr-old who lived scratching (digging in the fingernails and dragat home and attended a private school. Each ging them across the experimenter's skin or AGGRESSION AS AN ESCAPE BEHAVIOR clothing); hitting (striking the experimenter

 

with the open or closed hand); kicking (striking

 

the experimenter with the foot); and biting

 

(closing the teeth on any part of the experimenter's body).

 

Sessions with Sam were conducted in a 2.2by 1.5-m training cubicle under conditions identical to Bob's with the following exceptions: (a)

 

the experimenter did not wear protective clothing because Sam's aggressive responses were not

 

as damaging as Bob's; (b) sessions were 10 min

 

long, rather than 5 min, because a longer period

 

of aggressive behavior was more easily tolerated

 

in working with Sam; and (c) the following behaviors were defined as aggressive: pinching

 

(squeezing with a pincer grip), hair pulling

 

(grasping or pulling the experimenter's hair),

 

and scratching (defined as above).

 

The setting and recording technique described

 

for this experiment was also used for subsequent experiments reported below.

 

Procedure. The effects of demands were

 

studied using a reversal design whereby conditions in which demands were presented alternated with conditions in which demands were

 

withheld. Additionally, during one of the demand conditions, we examined the effects of a

 

stimulus which reliably signaled the termination

 

of demands.

 

Demands. This condition reproduced the

 

problem situation cited as most typical by each

 

teacher. For Bob, the situation was being required to sit in a chair; for Sam, it was being

 

instructed in a buttoning task.

 

Bob was brought into the room and told to

 

"Sit down." The experimenter sat down in the

 

chair in front of him and the session began.

 

A "sit down" command was given each time

 

that Bob attempted to leave (i.e., whenever he

 

raised his buttocks 3 in. (7.5 cm) or more off

 

the seat of the chair). If necessary, he was physically prompted to sit down again. Three additional commands accompanied by prompts occurred during the first session. No additional

 

commands or prompts (after the start of a session) were necessary in the following sessions. 103 Thus, the demand consisted of the continuous

 

requirement that he remain in the chair for the

 

duration of the session once he was told to sit

 

down. It must be emphasized that Bob had

 

never been observed to sit in a chair (without

 

being coerced) either in class or on the ward;

 

he always sat on the floor in a corner of the

 

room. Bob was to be praised at the end of each

 

period in which he sat for 10 consecutive sec

 

without aggression. However, because of continuous aggressive behavior, no praise was ever

 

delivered. Although this made for a somewhat

 

sterile treatment situation, it was, nonetheless,

 

the same situation which prevailed daily in his

 

classroom. Finally, the experimenter signaled

 

the end of each session by removing his gloves,

 

after which he led Bob from the room. This

 

condition was in effect for Bob during sessions

 

1-3 and 8-17.

 

Sam was handed a buttoning board at the

 

start of the session and once every 10 sec thereafter was instructed to button it. Physical

 

prompts were provided, when necessary, in

 

order to ensure that a correct response would

 

occur on virtually every trial. Such prompts

 

were given if the child failed to comply within

 

3 sec or if he complied but was unable to force

 

the button through the hole within 3 sec of the

 

onset of his response. Each correct response,

 

whether prompted or unprompted, was reinforced with brief verbal praise because this was

 

the customary practice in Sam's classroom and

 

he typically responded by smiling. The experimenter signaled the end of each session by removing the buttoning board and placing it on

 

a storage shelf, after which he returned Sam

 

to his regular classroom. This condition was in

 

effect for Sam during sessions 1-12, 19-24, and 36-43.

 

No demands. This condition was intended to

 

approximate those periods of the day when Bob

 

and Sam were not engaged in any structured

 

activity. Bob was brought into the room but no

 

demands were made of him. Invariably, he

 

would sit on the floor in one corner of the room.

 

The experimenter, who wore coat and gloves, 104 EDWARD G. CARR et al. maintained a distance of .4 m from Bob, the

 

distance that would have existed had they

 

both been seated. This condition was in effect

 

for Bob during sessions 4-7 and 18-25.

 

In this condition, Sam was brought into the

 

room and seated. The experimenter handed Sam

 

the buttoning board but made no demands. He

 

maintained a distance of .4 m from the child.

 

This condition was in effect during sessions

 

13-18 and 25-35.

 

Safety signal analysis. During the first imposition of the Demands condition, it became evident that the stimuli used by the experimenter

 

to end the sessions (i.e., removal of the gloves

 

in the case of Bob and of the buttoning board

 

in the case of Sam) had a profound effect on

 

the rate of aggression of each child. To analyze

 

this effect further, the following additional manipulations were made during the last Demands

 

condition with each child. At the end of half of

 

these sessions with Bob, the experimenter removed his gloves, as he normally did after 5

 

min, and no longer required Bob to sit in the

 

chair. Because Bob invariably left his chair at

 

this point to go to the corner, the experimenter

 

followed Bob, maintaining a distance of .4 m.

 

The observer continued to record aggressive acts

 

for an additional (sixth) min, at the end of

 

which the experimenter led Bob from the room.

 

Sessions 8, 10, 11, 13, and 15 were concluded

 

in the above manner and will be referred to

 

as Safety Signal sessions (so named because the

 

removal of the gloves signaled the onset of a

 

"safety" period during which no more demands

 

to remain seated were made). At the end of

 

the other half of the sessions, the experimenter

 

did not remove his gloves after 5 min and,

 

again, no longer required Bob to sit in the chair.

 

Bob invariably remained in his chair, however,

 

during the minute which followed. At the end

 

of the sixth min, the experimenter removed

 

his gloves and led Bob from the room. Sessions

 

9, 12, 14, 16, and 17 were concluded in this

 

manner and will be referred to as No Safety

 

Signal sessions (so named because the gloves

 

were not removed at the 5 min point). same At the end of half of the sessions of the last

 

Demands condition with Sam, the experimenter

 

removed the buttoning board, as he normally

 

did after the 10 min had elapsed, and stopped

 

making demands. The observer continued to

 

record aggressive acts for an additional 5 min,

 

after which the experimenter led Sam from the

 

room. Sessions 36, 38, 39, and 40 were concluded in this manner and are therefore labeled

 

(for the reason just given above) as Safety Signal sessions. At the end of the other half of

 

the sessions, the experimenter stopped giving

 

demands but did not remove the buttoning

 

board. After the 15th min had elapsed, the experimenter removed the buttoning board and

 

led Sam from the room. Sessions 37, 41, 42,

 

and 43 were concluded in this way and are labeled as No Safety Signal sessions. It should be

 

noted that Sam was intentionally exposed to

 

the additional 5-min period at the end of the

 

regular demand sessions, rather than the 1-min

 

period used for Bob, in order to determine

 

whether the effects observed for Bob could also

 

be obtained with the longer time period. The

 

procedure therefore constitutes an attempt at

 

systematic replication (Sidman, 1960).

 

Reliability was assessed 11 times for Bob

 

and 9 times for Sam, at least one assessment

 

being made in each experimental condition. In

 

this and all subsequent experiments, three reliability observers, each naive to the purpose of

 

the experiment, were randomly assigned in pairs

 

to record in various sessions. The response definitions were described verbally to each observer

 

before the session began. During each session,

 

the experimenter and two observers were present. For protection, the observers were seated

 

behind a table .8 m wide, positioned a minimum

 

of .9 m from the child. During the session, one

 

observer signaled the end of each 1-min interval

 

by tapping the leg of the other observer. Minuteby-minute monitoring was used for convenience

 

because later analyses (e.g., Bob's performance

 

in the Safety Signal condition) required frequency counts for each minute. The reliability

 

index was the percentage of agreement between 105 AGGRESSION AS AN ESCAPE BEHAVIOR the two observers, calculated separately for each Demands condition, the mean frequency of agsession by dividing the smaller total frequency gressive acts was 121.7 per 5-min session. Howby the larger. The median interobserver reliabil- ever, with the introduction of the No Demands

 

ity with Bob was 98% (range: 86%o to 100%), condition in session 4, the rate abruptly fell to

 

and with Sam, it was 93% (range: 78% to zero. When Demands were reinstated, the mean

 

100%).

 

rate rose sharply to 128.3, falling again to .8

 

during the final No Demands condition.

 

Results and Discussion

 

The bottom half of Figure 1 shows the numThe top half of Figure 1 shows the number ber of aggressive responses in each 10-min sesof aggressive responses in each 5-min session sion for Sam. Once again, the frequency of

 

for the two experimental conditions for Bob. aggressive acts was high during the Demands

 

The frequency of aggressive acts was high dur- condition and at or near zero in the No Deing the Demands condition and near zero dur- mands condition. During the first, second, and

 

ing the No Demands condition. During the first third Demands condition, the mean frequency of BOB 1160180 -W II

 

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Fig. 1. Number of aggressive responses exhibited by Bob and Sam in each session of the Demands and

 

No Demands conditions. 106 EDWARD G. CARR et al. BOB

 

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6-10 "1-'5 6-10 I"-'5 TIME PERIOD IN SESSION (min)

 

Fig. 2. Number of aggressive responses during the 5th and 6th min of each session in the second Demands

 

condition for Bob (top half of figure) and during the 6th to 10th min and 11th to 15th min of each session in

 

the third Demands condition for Sam (bottom half of figure). The left panels show data taken during Safety

 

Signal sessions in which the experimenter signaled to each child that demands were no longer forthcoming. The signal was given to Bob at the start of the 6th min and to Sam at the start of the 11th min. The right

 

panels show data taken during No Safety Signal sessions in which neither child received any cue that demands had ended. Some of the data points have been slightly displaced horizontally to enhance presentation clarity. 43.3, 53.7, and 91.1, respecThe top half of Figure 2 shows the number

 

tively. During the first and second No Demands of aggressive responses during the fifth and sixth

 

condition, the mean frequency of aggressive min of each of the 10 sessions in the second

 

acts was 1.0 and .3, respectively.

 

Demands condition for Bob. The left panel

 

aggressive acts was AGGRESSION AS AN ESCAPE BEHAVIOR shows data taken during the five Safety Signal

 

sessions and the right panel, data taken during

 

the five No Safety Signal sessions. During the

 

fifth min of the Safety Signal sessions, the mean

 

number of aggressive acts was 26.6. However,

 

during the sixth min, after the experimenter had

 

signaled the termination of demands by removing his gloves, the mean number of aggressive

 

acts fell to .4. In contrast, during the No Safety

 

Signal sessions, the mean number of aggressive

 

acts increased from a level of 24.6 during the

 

fifth min to 30.6 during the sixth min.

 

The bottom half of Figure 2 shows the number of aggressive responses during the last 5

 

min of the regular session (i.e., the sixth to

 

tenth min) and the 5-min period which followed the end of the regular session (i.e., the

 

11th to 15th min) for each of the 8 sessions

 

in the third Demands condition for Sam. The

 

left panel shows the data for the Safety Signal

 

sessions, in which the number of aggressive acts

 

fell from a mean of 56.5 during the last 5 min

 

of the session to a mean of 3.0 during the 11th

 

to 15th min, the time period which followed the

 

experimenter's signal that demands had ended.

 

During the No Safety Signal sessions (right

 

panel), the number of aggressive acts increased

 

from a mean of 55.8 during the last 5 min to

 

a mean of 74.8 during the additional 5 min.

 

The high rate of aggression which occurred

 

in the No Safety Signal condition was somewhat

 

paradoxical since this condition was identical

 

to the No Demands condition which produced

 

almost no aggression. One explanation for this

 

finding is that the absence of a safety signal

 

during the No Safety Signal condition made

 

it extremely difficult for the child to discriminate

 

that the demands had indeed ended and therefore he responded as if the demands condition

 

were still in effect, namely by continuing to

 

exhibit aggressive behaviors. In contrast, in the

 

No Demands condition, aggression was not set

 

off in the first place since the child was never

 

given any demands. In short, in the No Demands condition, the child was not presented

 

with any stimulus that set off aggression, and 107 in the No Safety Signal condition the child was

 

not presented with any stimulus that stopped

 

aggression.

 

Experiment 1 demonstrated that a situation

 

in which demands occur can be discriminative

 

for high rates of aggressive behavior. Second,

 

aggressive responding can be virtually eliminated when a stimulus that is correlated with

 

the termination of demands is introduced. A

 

plausible interpretation of the above results is

 

that aggressive behavior can, under some circumstances, be conceptualized as an escape response. This interpretation draws its strongest

 

support from the observation that Bob's rate of

 

aggression dropped dramatically when the experimenter removed his gloves, and Sam's aggression abruptly decreased after the experimenter removed the buttoning board. These

 

events were always used to signal the end of a

 

session and were thus highly discriminative for

 

the termination of demands. A stimulus which

 

consistently signals the absence of an aversive

 

event (such as demands might be) is technically

 

referred to as a "safety signal" (Mowrer, 1960,

 

p. 129). Typically, operant escape responding

 

decreases in the presence of a safety signal (Azrin, Hake, Holz, & Hutchinson, 1965, p. 39).

 

The fact that Bob and Sam stopped aggressing

 

whenever the experimenter removed his gloves

 

or the buttoning board suggests that these stimuli functioned as safety signals for them, indicating that the demands had ended and no

 

further escape responses (aggressive acts) were

 

necessary. In contrast, it is important to note

 

that when the experimenter did not remove his

 

gloves or the buttoning board (No Safety Signal

 

sessions), thereby failing to signal that demands

 

had terminated, Bob and Sam continued to aggress against the experimenter. EXPERIMENT 2

 

The results of Experiment 1 suggested that

 

aggression may function as an escape-motivated

 

response that serves to terminate an aversive

 

demand situation. If this interpretation is valid, EDWARD G. CARR et al. then any treatment intervention aimed at making the demand situation less aversive should

 

decrease the frequency of aggressive behavior.

 

One plausible procedure for mitigating the aversiveness of the demand situation would be to

 

introduce a variety of positive reinforcers known

 

to be strongly preferred by the child. Accordingly, in the experiment that follows, we attempted to determine the effect of including

 

such positive reinforcers in the demand sessions

 

on the level of aggressive behavior exhibited in

 

those sessions. Method

 

Sam alone participated because, as described

 

below, a separate set of procedures was required

 

to control Bob's aggression.

 

Procedure. The relationship between added

 

positive reinforcement (in the form of toys and

 

food) for correct responding, and the frequency

 

of aggressive behavior was studied in a reversal

 

design. ("Correct responding" refers to all correct responses, whether prompted or unprompted.) A condition in which brief verbal

 

praise followed each correct response (the Demands condition) was alternated with a condition in which correct responses were followed

 

by toy and food reinforcers in addition to praise

 

(the Demands Plus Toys and Food condition).

 

Demands. This condition was identical to the

 

Demands condition of Experiment 1 for Sam.

 

It was in effect during sessions 1-5 and 13-15.

 

Demands plus toys and food. This condition

 

was identical to the Demands condition, except

 

that the experimenter now dispensed one of

 

several toy or food reinforcers (in addition to

 

the customary verbal praise) each time that

 

Sam made a correct response. The reinforcers

 

used were selected on the basis of a two-step

 

process. In Step 1, the teacher was interviewed

 

and a list of potential reinfor...

 


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