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Effect of time-out on adult performance of a visual discrimination task.

Punishment can be defined as a consequence of behavior that reduces the future probability of that behavior (Azrin & Holz, 1966). Punishment is typically either positive or negative. Positive punishment involves the application of an aversive stimulus, after an undesirable behavior, that results in the reduction of the probability of recurrence of that behavior. For example, when rats were punished with a strong shock for pressing a lever that delivered food, the rats rarely pressed the lever for food (Camp, Raymond, & Church, 1967). Negative punishment involves the removal of a desired stimulus following an undesirable behavior that results in the reduction of the probability of the recurrence of that behavior (Chance, 2003; Church, 1963; Klein, 2002; Lieberman, 2000; Mazur, 1998). A common negative punishment is time-out from reinforcement (Delaney, 1999; Landau & MacLeish, 1988; McGuffin, 1991; Rortvedt & Miltenberger, 1994). Time-out from reinforcement is a period of time during which positive reinforcement is withdrawn or is no longer available, contingent on a specific behavior (Kennedy et al., 1990; MacDonough & Forehand, 1973).

Both positive and negative punishment can be extremely effective at altering behavior (see Domjan, 2003; Mazur, 2006; Penney, 1967; Rortvedt & Miltenberger, 1994; Schwartz, Wasserman, & Robbins, 2002). For example, research has shown that the application of mild electric shock for incorrect responses enhances the ability of adult human beings to learn to navigate a maze by reducing the number of trials needed to meet learning criteria and reducing the number of errors (Crafts & Gilbert, 1934). Other research has demonstrated that when a brief time-out was implemented as a consequence of noncompliance, compliance more than doubled and remained elevated for several weeks afterward (Rortvedt & Miltenberger, 1994).

Punishment for incorrect responses, combined with reinforcement for correct responses, enhances task performance to a greater degree than when reinforcement for correct responses is used alone (Harris & Tramontana, 1973; Munson & Crosbie, 1998; Penney, 1967; Penney & Lupton, 1961; Stevenson, Weir, & Zigler, 1959). In one study, adults, randomly assigned to one of four groups that differed in the contingencies for correct and incorrect responses, learned a discrimination task (Trent, 1983). In one group, the adults received feedback only. In another group, adults received points for correct responses. The third group of adults performed the task under a response-cost paradigm during which they lost points for incorrect responses. The final group of adults received points for correct responses and lost points for incorrect responses. Adults who had lower levels of anxiety performed significantly better in the combined condition. Adults with higher levels of anxiety also performed the best in the combined condition, although the differences were not statistically significant. In another study, kindergarten children learned to perform a visual discrimination task (Penney, 1967). Contingencies for correct and incorrect responses varied on the basis of group assignment. The first group of children received candy reinforcers for correct responses. The second group did not receive reinforcers for correct responses but received an aversive loud tone for incorrect responses. The third group received reinforcers for correct responses and punishers for incorrect responses. Children in the reinforcement-and-punishment group took fewer trials to acquire the task than either of the other two groups.

Time-out from reinforcement after incorrect responses is used in combination with reinforcement after correct responses to enhance the acquisition and performance of tasks in animals (Ferster & Appel, 1961; Zimmerman & Ferster, 1963) and human beings (Chelonis, Daniels-Shaw, Blake, & Paule, 2000, Chelonis et al., 2002; Zimmerman & Baydan, 1963). For example, research has shown that the use of time-out from positive reinforcement enhanced performance on a matching-to-sample task in pigeons (Ferster & Appel, 1961; Zimmerman & Ferster, 1963); however, the effects were dependent on the duration of the time-out. Specifically, this research showed that time-out durations between 10 s and 60 s enhanced matching-to-sample accuracy (Ferster & Appel, 1961). Zimmerman and Baydan (1963) reported similar results with human participants. In this research, college students received reinforcers for correct responses and time-outs of varying durations (2, 10, 60, or 120 s) for incorrect responses on a matching-to-sample task. The results indicated that response accuracy increased as time-out duration increased.

Although time-out from positive reinforcement appears to be effective at enhancing performance on matching-to-sample tasks, it is unclear whether this effect is due to the punishment aspect of the time-out. For instance, time-out from positive reinforcement might have reduced the proactive interference generated from previous presentations of stimuli in the matching-to-sample tasks. Specifically, for matching-to-sample tasks, a participant views a visual stimulus (target) for a period of time. Afterward, the target stimulus is darkened and two or more stimuli are presented, one of which matches the target. The participant must then choose the target stimulus from among the choice stimuli. Often for these tasks, stimuli are used repeatedly during the session and, therefore, are used as both target stimuli and nontarget stimuli during a session. This repetition results in the buildup of proactive interference across trials (Grant, 2000; Hogan, Edwards, & Zentall, 1981; Klein, 2002; Medin, 1980). It is unclear whether the enhanced performance observed on matching-to-sample tasks during the implementation of time-outs after incorrect responses is due to the punishment aspect of the time-out, the reduction of proactive interference as a result of increasing the interval between each trial, or a combination of the two.

Despite all the previous research on the effects of punishment, including time-out, to alter behavior and the few studies on the effects of time-out to enhance task performance, it is as yet unclear whether time-out from reinforcement will enhance acquisition in a learning task. Time-outs may have little effect on learning tasks, since such tasks generate little or no proactive interference across trials, because the same response is either correct or incorrect for each trial and does not vary across trials. Further, learning tasks require participants to retain and recall information from previous trials. Extensive research has demonstrated that the ability to recall information decreases as the time between the presentation of a stimulus and recall of that stimulus increases (Aggleton, Nicol, & Huston, 1988; Barth, Fein, & Waterhouse, 1995; Chelonis et al., 2000; Paule, Chelonis, Buffalo, Blake, & Casey, 1999; Wixted, 1989). Hence, time-outs following incorrect responses may disrupt acquisition of learning tasks. Therefore, the purpose of the present research was to examine the effects of time-outs of several durations after incorrect responses on the acquisition of a visual discrimination task to determine whether time-outs enhance or impair acquisition of this task.

Method

Participants

The participants in this study were 64 college students, 13 men and 51 women, 18 to 30 years of age, recruited from classes and through the Introductory Psychology subject pool at SUNY College at Brockport. The sample consisted of 1 participant who was African American, 1 participant who was Hispanic/Latino, 2 participants who were of mixed Caucasian and African American background, 1 participant who was Asian, 57 participants who were Caucasian, and 2 participants who were of unknown ethnicity. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups (n = 16) that differed in the duration of time-out after incorrect responses. Informed consent was obtained from the participants prior to the start of the study.

Apparatus

Participants performed a color-shape discrimination (CSD) task in a sound-attenuated room that was partitioned into two sections: a testing area and an area for the computer used to run the apparatus. The portion of the room used for testing was 2.7 m long, 2.7 m wide, and 2.7 m high. A fluorescent ceiling light illuminated the room throughout the entire CSD task. The experimental apparatus, a chair, and a television (for showing videotaped instructions) were present in the testing portion of the room. Figure 1 shows a diagram of the experimental apparatus. The apparatus, consisting of a large wooden box 182 cm tall, 60.8 cm

wide, and 50.4 cm deep, was attached to the center of the wall adjacent to the television. The front of the apparatus contained a response panel 65.4 cm high, 55.6 cm wide, and 60.8 cm above the floor. The panel contained two types of response manipulanda and a variety of stimulus lights. The response manipulanda used in the CSD task were three press-plates located 10 cm below the bottom edge of the speaker and centered, 3 cm apart, in a horizontal row. Each press-plate was 3.2 cm in diameter. These press-plates could project seven simple white geometric shapes (circle, square, triangle, plus sign, vertical bar, horizontal bar, and an X) on a colored background (red, blue, yellow, or green). Positioned 22 cm below the panel and 15 cm from the left edge of the cabinet was a tray 15 cm wide and 10 cm deep where reinforcers (nickels) were delivered. The remaining manipulanda on the panel were not used during the CSD task. The activation and presentation of the press-plates and recording of responses were automated with a computerized system that was programmed in Quickbasic and located on the other side of the partition from the testing area.

Procedure

Before testing, the experimenter requested that the participant complete several forms that contained demographic questions. The experimenter escorted the participant into the testing area and asked her or him to leave all personal electronic devices in another room until the study was completed. The participant was told that he or she would play a game (task) and that the instructions for this game would be shown on the television monitor before the game began. The experimenter went to the other side of the partition after starting the videotaped instructions that were used to standardize instructions for all participants. The following instructions were presented to the participant on the television monitor:

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
 The apparatus and narrator appear on the screen and the narrator
 says, "Today I am going to show you how to play a game where you can
 earn many nickels" [the three press-plates appear on the video
 screen]. "In this game, the middle button will light up with a color
 and a shape. This color and shape will be either" [a white X on a
 blue background appears on the center press-plate] "a blue X," [a
 white horizontal bar on a green background appears on the center
 press-plate] "a green minus sign," [a white triangle on a red
 background appears on the center press-plate] "a red triangle," [a
 white plus sign on a yellow background appears on the center press-
 plate] "a yellow plus sign," [a white circle on a green background
 appears on the center press-plate] "a green circle," [no white shape
 but a red background appears on the center press- plate] "a solid
 red button," [a white square on a blue background appears on the
 center press-plate] "a blue square," [a white vertical bar on a
 yellow background appears on the center press-plate] "or a yellow
 line. When you see the shape and color in the center button, press
 the button and the color-shape will disappear" [the narrator presses
 the center press-plate, the stimulus disappears, and the two side
 press-plates become illuminated white]. "The two side buttons will
 then light up; press either the left" [the narrator points to the
 left press-plate] "or the right button" [the narrator points to the
 right press-plate] "once they are lit" [the narrator no longer
 points to the right press-plate]. "One of these buttons will be the
 correct button for that color and shape and the other button will be
 the incorrect button for that color and shape. If you press the
 correct button, you will receive a nickel and a color and shape will
 immediately appear in the middle button. If you press the incorrect
 button, all three buttons will go dark and it may be up to 30
 seconds before a color and shape will again appear in the middle
 button. [A new stimulus, a white circle on a green background,
 appears on the center press-plate.] Remember which button goes with
 which color and shape, because that button will go with that color
 and shape for the entire game" [the narrator and response panel are
 shown]. "You will be able to earn many nickels in this game. So,
 keep playing until you are told the game is over."


When the videotaped instructions ended, the experimenter reentered the room and asked the participant whether he or she understood the instructions. Some participants stated that they did not understand the instructions; under such circumstances the experimenter replayed the videotaped instructions. After the second viewing of the instructions (for those who did not understand them the first time), all participants stated that they understood the instructions and required no further explanation of the task. After the participant stated that she or he understood the instructions, the experimenter went to the other side of the partition and initiated the task. The experimenter remained on that side of the partition, out of sight of the participant, and did not interact with the participant during the entire session.

The task began with the illumination of the center press-plate with one of eight stimuli: a white square on a blue background, a white X on a blue background, a white horizontal bar on a green background, a white circle on a green background, a red background with no white shape, a white triangle on a red background, a white plus sign on a yellow background, and a white vertical bar on a yellow background. All of the eight stimuli were presented once before any stimulus could be presented again, thus ensuring that no stimulus was presented more than two times in succession. The participant was required to press the center press-plate after a stimulus was displayed on it to ensure that the participant was attending to the stimulus and was engaged in the task. After the participant pressed the center press-plate, the press-plate was darkened and the two side press-plates were immediately illuminated white. The participant was then required to press either the left or right press-plate. For half of the stimuli (the white X on a blue background, the white circle on a green background, the white triangle on a red background, and the white vertical bar on a yellow background), pressing the right press-plate was the correct response. For the other half of the stimuli (the white square on a blue background, the red background with no white shape, the white horizontal bar on a green background, and the white plus sign on a yellow background), pressing the left press-plate was the correct response. If the participant pressed the correct press-plate, the side press-plates were darkened, the participant received a nickel, and a new stimulus appeared immediately on the center press-plate. If the participant pressed the incorrect press-plate, the side press-plates were darkened and a time-out occurred before the next stimulus was presented on the center press-plate. The time-out duration was 0 s, 5 s, 10 s, or 20 s, depending on the group to which the participant was assigned. The task ended after the participant completed 192 trials (24 trials for each one of the eight stimuli).

Data Analysis

For the purposes of data analysis, each session was divided into 12 blocks that consisted of 16 trials each (two presentations of each stimulus). Accuracy, observing response latency, and choice response latency were calculated for each of the blocks. Accuracy was defined as the number of trials in which a correct choice was made divided by the total number of trials. Observing response latency was defined as the average time to press the initial stimulus after it appeared on the center press-plate. Choice response latency was defined as the average time to press one of the two side press-plates once the side press-plates were illuminated (correct and incorrect). Each of the latency measures described above was also calculated across the entire session and compared across groups and with each other. Two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) utilizing a mixed factorial design was conducted for each of the dependent variables listed above. The two independent variables for this analysis were time-out group and block. t Tests were also conducted to determine whether any patterns of results could be observed when the ANOVAs yielded significant main effects or interactions. The number of participants who achieved accuracies of 100% was compared for each group with the use of a chi-square test for independence.

Results

Figure 2 shows the means and standard errors for accuracy for each group at each block of 16 trials. A two-way ANOVA utilizing a mixed factorial design revealed a significant effect of group, F(3, 60) = 21.43, p < .01, a significant effect of block, F(11, 660) = 93.34, p < .01, and a significant interaction, F(33, 660) = 2.91, p < .01. Although accuracy increased across blocks for each group, the rate of increase was greater and occurred sooner for participants in the 10-s and 20-s time-out groups than for participants in the 0-s time-out group, as revealed by significant differences in the mean accuracy between the longer duration time-out groups and the 0-s time-out group for almost every block after block 3. The rate of increase in accuracy for the 5-s time-out group was greater than that for the 0-s time-out group but less than that for either the 10-s time-out group or the 20-s time-out group. This finding was demonstrated by significant differences between the 5-s time-out group and the 10- and 20-s time-out groups at earlier blocks but not at later blocks.

Figure 3 shows the number of participants who achieved an accuracy of 100% at a particular block of trials. Chi-square tests for independence revealed that as the session progressed, significantly fewer participants achieved 100% accuracy in the 0-s time-out group than in the 10- or 20-s time-out groups. Fewer participants also met learning criteria in the 0-s time-out group than in the 5-s time-out group at blocks near the end of the session. The number of participants who achieved 100% accuracy was significantly less for the 5-s time group than for either the 10-s or 20-s time-out groups during the middle blocks of the session, but no significant differences between the groups appeared during the earlier or later blocks in the session.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

Figure 4 shows the means and standard errors for observing response latency for each group at each block of 16 trials. A two-way ANOVA utilizing a mixed factorial design revealed no significant effect of group, F(3, 60) = 1.71, p = .17, a significant effect of block, F(11, 660) = 59.89, p < .01, and a significant interaction, F(33, 660) = 1.89, p < .01. The 20-s time-out group had significantly longer observing response latencies than either the 0-s or the 5-s time-out group from block 2 to block 6. In contrast, none of the time-out groups exhibited significantly different observing response latencies from block 7 to the last block of the session.

Figure 5 shows the means and standard errors for choice response latency for each group at each block. Choice response latency was similar across blocks for all groups. Choice response latency decreased across blocks for all of the time-out groups. A two-way ANOVA utilizing a mixed factorial design revealed no significant effect of group, F(3, 60) = 0.27, p = .84, a significant effect of block, F(11, 660) = 103.07, p < .01, and no significant interaction, F(33, 660) = 0.55, p = .98.

[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]

Figure 6 shows the means and standard errors for observing response latency and choice response latency for each group collapsed across the entire session. The figure illustrates that for each group, observing response latency was greater than choice response latency. A two-way ANOVA utilizing a mixed factorial design yielded no significant effect of group, F(3, 60) = 1.13, p = .35; a significant effect of latency type, F(1, 60) = 355.79, p < .01; and no significant interaction, F(3, 60) = 1.95, p = .13. Comparisons of observing and choice response latency for each group revealed observing response latency was significantly longer for each time-out group than choice response latency, t(15) = 9.21, p < .01; t(15) = 8.06, p < .01; t(15) = 9.79, p < .01; t(15) = 10.74, p < .01 for timeout groups 0 s, 5 s, 10 s, and 20 s, respectively.

Discussion

The results of this study indicate that time-out following incorrect responses enhanced acquisition of this visual discrimination task; however, the effectiveness was dependent on the duration of the time-out. Specifically, the 10-s and 20-s time-out groups demonstrated significantly enhanced acquisition of the task for most of the blocks during the session, whereas the 5-s time-out enhanced acquisition for most of the blocks later in the session. In addition, more participants from the 10-s and 20-s timeout groups exhibited learning on this task earlier in the session than in the other time-out groups and all three time-out groups had more participants who learned the task compared with the 0-s time-out group by the end of the session.

[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]

These effects are consistent with the literature that has demonstrated that punishment is effective at altering behavior and can enhance task performance (Crafts & Gilbert, 1934; Domjan, 2003; Mazur, 2006; Penney, 1967; Rortvedt & Miltenberger, 1994; Schwartz et al., 2002). These results also provide evidence that the effectiveness of time-outs to enhance learning can be extended to tasks that generate relatively little proactive interference across trials. These results are also consistent with the research that has demonstrated that punishers can enhance performance to a greater degree than reinforcers alone (Harris & Tramontana, 1973; Munson & Crosbie, 1998; Penney, 1967; Penney & Lupton, 1961; Stevenson, et al., 1959). The results of the current study coincide with the research showing that punishers of greater magnitude (Camp et al., 1967), including time-outs of longer duration (Ferster & Appel, 1961; Hobbs, Forehand, & Murray, 1978; Zimmerman & Ferster, 1963), are more effective at altering behavior than punishers of lesser magnitude. The data from the current study also suggest the effectiveness of increasing the duration of the time-out asymptotes at 10 s and that for this paradigm, the effects of delays on recall (i.e., time-out following incorrect responses) do not disrupt behavior to the degree observed in delayed matching-to-sample paradigms. The present study, however, did not assess performance at time-out durations exceeding 20 s, so it is unclear what effects longer time-outs may have had on performance.

The results from this research revealed some significant differences in observing response latency. The observing response latency for the 20-s time-out group was significantly longer than the 0-s time-out group for blocks early in the session but was similar to that of the other time-out groups later in the session. Once the 20-s time-out group made mostly correct responses and was receiving few time-outs, the differences in observing response latency disappeared. No significant differences were found for choice response latency between the time-out groups. These results indicate that for this task, time-out duration has a greater effect on observing response latency than choice response latency. There are several possible reasons why these differences in observing response latency occurred. First, participants may have become inattentive during the time-out, as is typically observed during delays in a delayed matching-to-sample task (Chelonis et al., 2000, 2002). Specifically, delayed matching-to-sample tasks have shown that as the time between responses increases, response latency increases as well owing to decreased attention to the task. Second, the longer observing response latencies might have also been a result of general suppression of behavior due to punishment or the presentation of an aversive stimulus (see Mazur 2006; Schwartz et al., 2002). Third, the significantly longer observing response latencies for each group might be the result of the majority of the decision making occurring at the observing phase of the trials rather than when the choice stimuli are presented.

In conclusion, these results suggest that time-outs following incorrect responses can enhance acquisition of a simple visual discrimination task. These results are especially interesting given that all participants were also reinforced for correct responses. In fact, few participants in the 0-s time-out group achieved an accuracy of 100%, even after they were presented with 176 trials on this task. The fact that the longer duration time-out groups were able to perform this task accurately by the end of the session, whereas the 0-s time-out group was not, suggests that the lack of contingencies for incorrect responses (i.e. time-out) led to a performance deficit in this group. This research also suggests that in certain situations, the addition of punishment may be beneficial to alter behavior.

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JOHN J. CHELONIS, JAIRO E. BASTILLA, and MELISSA M. BROWN

State University of New York, College at Brockport

EUNICE S. GARDNER

Idaho State University at Pocatello

We thank Jiva Dimova, Heather Dotzler, and Kristi Jayne for their assistance in conducting the experiment, managing the data, and reviewing a draft of this manuscript. This research was supported in part by the Ronald McNair Program at the State University of New York, College at Brockport. Correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to John J. Chelonis, State University of New York, College at Brockport, Department of Psychology, 350 New Campus Drive, Brockport, NY 14420. (Email: jcheloni@brockport.edu).
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Author:Chelonis, John J.; Bastilla, Jairo E.; Brown, Melissa M.; Gardner, Eunice S.
Publication:The Psychological Record
Article Type:Clinical report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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