Piazza, Adelinis, Hanley, Goh, Delia (2000)


An evaluation of the effects of matched stimuli on behaviors maintained by automatic reinforcement


Piazza, C.C., Adelinis, J.D., Hanley, G.P., Goh, H.L., & Delia, M.D. (2000). An evaluation of the effects of matched stimuli on behaviors maintained by automatic reinforcement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 33(1), 13–27. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2000.33-13


  • Cathleen C. Piazza
  • John D. Adelinis
  • Gregory P. Hanley
  • Han-Leong Goh
  • Michael D. Delia

Article Info

  • Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (1995)
  • Volume 33, Issue 1,
    pages 13-27

Key Words

  • Automatic Reinforcement
  • Functional Analysis
  • Preference Assessment


The purpose of the current investigation was to extend the literature on matched stimuli to three dissimilar forms of aberrant behavior (dangerous climbing and jumping, saliva manipulation, and hand mouthing). The results of functional analyses suggested that each behavior was automatically reinforced. Preference assessments were used to identify two classes of stimuli: items that matched the hypothesized sensory consequences of aberrant behavior (matched stimuli) and items that produced sensory consequences that were not similar to those produced by the aberrant behavior (unmatched stimuli). The effects of providing continuous and noncontingent access to either the most highly preferred matched or the most highly preferred unmatched stimuli were assessed relative to a condition in which no stimuli were available. Overall results suggested that providing access to items that matched the hypothesized sensory consequences of aberrant behavior may be more effective than simply selecting stimuli either arbitrarily or based on the results of preference assessments alone.


Purpose & Method

  • Purpose: to extend previous findings on effects of matched stimuli on automatically reinforced behavior
  • Method:
    • Three participants with severe behavior disorders
    • Conducted FA
    • Conducted systematic assessment for identifying highly preferred matched and unmatched stimuli
    • Evaluated the role of the sensory match and preference by comparing the effects of the matched and unmatched stimuli on three dissimilar topographies of aberrant behavior


Found that not all matched stimuli were equally preferred, suggesting some matched stimuli would be more effective


Matched Stimuli

Matched stimuli were described as sensory stimulation that matches the sensory stimulation produced by automatic reinforcement. It was used to explain how providing equivalent sensory stimulation of an automatically reinforced behavior, can be used to reduce the occurrences of the targeted automatic reinforced behavior. This was exampled by replacing eye-poking with other forms of visual stimulation, such as toys that produce visual stimulation (e.g., light-up toys, strobe lights).

Functional Analysis (FA)

An FA was conducted for all participants to ensure that behaviors were all maintained by automatic reinforcement. This was necessary as automatically reinforced behaviors were the subject of the study and the premise of why matched stimuli could be used reduced behaviors. If behaviors were not all automatically reinforced, their functions would differ from the target of the study, resulting in an inappropriate intervention. Results of the FA showed that all participants engaged in automatically reinforced behaviors. For 2 of 3 participants, FA results showed that their behavior occurred at high rates across all conditions, indicating behaviors were automatically maintained. For 1 of 3 participant, their behaviors occurred at high rates solely in the Alone condition, indicating behaviors were automatically maintained. This participant (1 of 3) was also the only participant to have dangerous behaviors be their target behavior.

Study 3

In Study 3, the authors evaluated the effects of matched and unmatched stimuli by using combination of reversal and multielement designs for 2 of 3 participants, and a multielement design by itself for 1 of 3 participants due to targeting dangerous behaviors. For the participant engaging in dangerous behavior, the multielement design found that unmatched stimuli significantly decreased their rates (responses per minute) of automatically reinforced behaviors, however, matched stimuli decreased behaviors to low-to-no rates. For the two participants that had their behaviors evaluated using both multielement and reversal designs, unmatched stimuli were shown to have minimal effects on rates of responding, while matched stimuli were found to significantly decrease behaviors to low rates of responding. The reversal back to Baseline and then Intervention phases proved that these decreases for matched and unmatched stimuli were consistent, with matched being significantly more effective than unmatched.

Graphs & Figures

Figure 1

Figure 2


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