Automatic or Sensory Maintained Behavior

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Behaviors that are maintained by non-social/ environmental consequences (bio-behavioral states) are considered to be maintained by automatic reinforcement or internal  sensory consequences.  Changes in environmental consequences have little to no effect on the rates of these behaviors.

In order to come to the conclusion that a particular behavior is maintained by automatic or sensory consequences,  one must rule empirically that changes in the environment are not reliably correlated with changes in rates of the behavior.

Also the topography of behavior does not make it a “sensory” or “stimulatory behavior” ,  the fact that consistent changes in environmental consequences do not impact rates of the behavior leads to the hypothesis that the behavior is maintained by automatic reinforcement.

General Practice Guidelines:

Systematically test and rule out the effects of consistent delivery of or removal of attention contingent upon the occurrence of the behavior.

If data demonstrate reliably different rates of the behavior in different settings (persons or conditions),  rule out this hypothesis


Stephanie A Contrucci Kuhn, Mandy Triggs
J Appl Behav Anal. 2009 Fall; 42(3): 679–683. doi: 10.1901/jaba.2009.42-679
Scott D McKenzie, Richard G Smith, Jason N Simmons, Michael J Soderlund
J Appl Behav Anal. 2008 Summer; 41(2): 255–259. doi: 10.1901/jaba.2008.41-255
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