An application of the matching law to severe problem behavior

Author/Creator ORCID





Citation of Original Publication

Borrero, John C.; Vollmer, Timothy R.; An application of the matching law to severe problem behavior; Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 35(1): 13–27 (2002);


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We evaluated problem behavior and appropriate behavior using the matching equation with 4 individuals with developmental disabilities. Descriptive observations were conducted during interactions between the participants and their primary care providers in either a clinical laboratory environment (3 participants) or the participant's home (1 participant). Data were recorded on potential reinforcers, problem behavior, and appropriate behavior. After identifying the reinforcers that maintained each participant's problem behavior by way of functional analysis, the descriptive data were analyzed retrospectively, based on the matching equation. Results showed that the proportional rate of problem behavior relative to appropriate behavior approximately matched the proportional rate of reinforcement for problem behavior for all participants. The results extend prior research because a functional analysis was conducted and because multiple sources of reinforcement (other than attention) were evaluated. Methodological constraints were identified, which may limit the application of the matching law on both practical and conceptual levels.