Stimulus Preference Assessment in Secondary General Education: Using Reinforcement to Increase On-Task Behavior

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Daniel H. Tingstrom

Advisor Department



The use of behavioral principles in general education classrooms has been recognized as beneficial to both teachers and students. One specific principle that works efficiently is reinforcement. The appropriate use of reinforcement in the classroom is critical for the success of behavioral interventions. Because of the individual differences in preference and reinforcing stimuli that potentially exist across students, identification of reinforcers targeted for individual students is essential (Timberlake & Farmer-Dougan, 1991). A stimulus preference assessment can be used to identify potential reinforcers prior to the start of an intervention. Earlier studies in preference assessment focused on single-item presentation and forced-choice methodologies, and also utilized individuals with disabilities. In contrast, published literature which focuses on secondary general education students has not been produced. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether reinforcers can be identified for secondary students by comparing teacher and student stimulus nomination preference assessment results and testing them within the general education classroom setting. Participants were five students in grades 6 and 8, along with their teachers. The three types of assessment methods evaluated were teacher nomination, student nomination, and student on-going stimulus preference assessment. Teacher and student nomination preference assessments were conducted at the beginning of the study, while the on-going assessment represents student preference throughout data collection. Reinforcer assessments were then used to evaluate the effectiveness of stimuli identified during each preference assessment. The three preference assessment methods were compared to determine which method or methods were most useful when identifying reinforcers for secondary level students. Reinforcer assessments consisted of observations of on-task behavior within the classroom. The results demonstrated that secondary general education students and their teachers were successfully able to identify reinforcers. For 2 of the 5 participants, the student on-going preference assessment resulted in slightly higher levels of on-task behavior. Analysis of results, limitations, and indications for future research are discussed.