Effects of Rich and Lean Treatment Contexts on Renewal
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Relapse of problem behavior following behavioral intervention can occur for many reasons, including a change in setting after treatment. Reappearance of a previously extinguished behavior due to a context change is termed renewal. Laboratory models have demonstrated renewal by training a target behavior in one stimulus context, extinguishing the behavior in another context, and testing for relapse in the training context, where the behavior remains in extinction. Basic-research studies of relapse have also shown that conditions of the treatment environment, such as reinforcement schedules, can affect the amount of relapse observed. Assuming that quality of the treatment context could have an impact on relapse, this translational study investigated whether an enriched treatment environment increases renewal. Child participants were exposed to an ABA sequence of contexts, signaled by color-coded (e.g., red-blue-red) stimuli. Reinforcement was provided for target responding in Context A, and the target response was under extinction conditions in Context B, and in a return to Context A. In Context B across conditions, high-preferred or low-preferred toys were present, representing a more enriched treatment context or a leaner treatment context, respectively. For one participant, greater relapse occurred following exposure to the enriched treatment context. For the other two participants, target responding was not eliminated when extinction contingencies were introduced. Possible explanations and implications will be discussed. Examining the effects of treatment conditions can provide a platform for understanding ways to decrease relapse following extinction-based treatments of problem behavior.