On The Applied Side Schedules Of Reinforcement Of Abstinence From Cigarette Smoking

The use of drugs is operant behavior maintained in part by the reinforcing effects of the drug. One implication of this analysis is that reinforcement of an incompatible response (i.e., abstinence) can reduce the probability of taking drugs. The effectiveness of an abstinence contingency depends on both the magnitude and the schedule of reinforcement for nondrug use (e.g., Higgins, Bickel, & Hughes, 1994).

In an investigation of cigarette smoking, Roll, Higgins, and Badger (1996) assessed the effectiveness of three different schedules of reinforcement for promoting and sustaining drug abstinence. These researchers conducted an experimental analysis of cigarette smoking because (a) cigarettes can function as reinforcers, (b) smoking can be reduced by reinforcement of alternative responses, and (c) it is relatively more convenient to study cigarette smoking than illicit drugs. Furthermore, cigarette smokers usually relapse within several days following abstinence. This suggests that reinforcement factors regulating abstinence exert their effects shortly after the person stops smoking, and it is possible to study these factors in a short-duration experiment.

Sixty adults, who smoked between 10 and 50 cigarettes a day, took part in the experiment. The smokers were not currently trying to give up cigarettes. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: progressive reinforcement, fixed rate of reinforcement, and a control group. They were told to begin abstaining from cigarettes on Friday evening so that they could pass a carbon monoxide (CO) test for abstinence on Monday morning. Each person in the study went at least 2 days without smoking before reinforcement for abstinence began. On Monday through Friday, participants agreed to take three daily CO tests. These tests could detect prior smoking.

Twenty participants were randomly assigned to the progressive reinforcement group. The progressive schedule involved increasing the magnitude of reinforcement for remaining drug free. Participants earned $3.00 for passing the first carbon monoxide test for abstinence. Each subsequent consecutive CO sample that indicated abstinence increased the amount of money participants received by $0.50. The third consecutive CO test passed earned a bonus of $10.00. That is, passing the first CO test yielded $3.00; passing the second, $3.50; the third, $14.00 ($4.00 and bonus of $10.00); the fourth, $4.50; and so on. In addition, a substantial response cost was added for failing a CO test. If the person failed the test, the payment for that test was withheld, and the value of payment for the next test was reset to $3.00. Three consecutive CO tests indicating abstinence following a reset returned the payment schedule to the value at which the reset occurred (p. 497), supporting efforts to achieve abstinence.

Participants in the fixed reinforcement group (N = 20) were paid $9.80 for passing each CO test. There were no bonus points for consecutive abstinences, and there were no resets. The total amount of money available for the progressive and the fixed groups was the same. Smokers in both the progressive and the fixed groups were informed in advance of the schedule of payment and the criterion for reinforcement. The schedule of payment for the control group was the same as the average payment obtained by the first 10 participants assigned to the progressive condition. For these people, the payment was given no matter what their CO levels were. The control group was, however, asked to try and cut their cigarette consumption, reduce CO levels, and maintain abstinence.

Smokers in the progressive and fixed reinforcement groups passed more than 80% of the abstinence tests, whereas the control group only passed about 40% of the tests. The effects of the schedule of reinforcement are shown in Fig. 5.17A. The figure indicates the percentage of participants who passed three consecutive tests for abstinence and then resumed smoking over the 5 days of the experiment. Only 22% of those on the progressive schedule resumed smoking compared to 60 and 82% in the fixed and control groups. Thus, the progressive schedule of reinforcement was superior at preventing the resumption of smoking (after a period of abstinence).

Figure 5.17B shows the percentage of smokers who gave up cigarettes throughout the experiment. Again, a strong effect of schedule of reinforcement is apparent. Fifty percent

Progressive Fixed Control

FIG. 5.17. Percentage of participants in each group who obtained three consecutive abstinences but then resumed smoking (A). Percentage of smokers in each group who were abstinent on all trials during the entire experiment (B).

Progressive Fixed Control

Progressive Fixed Control

FIG. 5.17. Percentage of participants in each group who obtained three consecutive abstinences but then resumed smoking (A). Percentage of smokers in each group who were abstinent on all trials during the entire experiment (B).

of those on the progressive reinforcement schedule remained abstinent for the 5 days of the experiment. This compares with 30 and 5% of the fixed and control participants.

Overall, these results indicate that a progressive reinforcement schedule, combined with an escalating response cost, is an effective short-term intervention for abstinence from smoking. Further research is necessary to see whether a progressive schedule maintains abstinence after the schedule is withdrawn. Long-term follow-up studies of progressive and other schedules are necessary to assess the lasting effects of reinforcement schedules on abstinence. What is clear, at this point, is that schedules of reinforcement may be an important component of stop-smoking programs.

Stop Smoking, Kick The Habit Now

Stop Smoking, Kick The Habit Now

Now You Can Quit Smoking And Start Living a Healthy Life Yes, You! Have You Ever Thought There’s No Way You Can Give Up Cigarettes Without Losing Your Mind? Well, Worry No More.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment