The Effects of Preference, Choice, and Attention on Problem Behavior at School

John Umbreit, Kwang Sun Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Reggie was an 11-year-old boy with moderate-to-severe retardation, seizures, and behavior disorders, who frequently engaged in problem behavior at school. These behaviors included: making a loud, high-pitched noise ("Eee"); hitting staff, peers, and objects; throwing objects; laying down on the floor; running away; biting others; and spitting. The study was conducted in two phases. The first phase focused on assessment and included structured interviews and observations, hypothesis development, and hypothesis testing within ongoing school activities. The interviews and observations led to hypotheses that Reggie would behave better when he (a) was engaged in preferred activities, (b) was given choice, and (c) received attention frequently while he was engaged in appropriate behavior. Experimental analyses confirmed these hypotheses. The second phase examined the effectiveness of an assessment-based intervention that was implemented by the teaching staff. The intervention virtually eliminated all problem behavior and resulted in appropriate behavior nearly all of the time. In addition, the effect occurred immediately, lasted for at least several months, and generalized to three non-targeted (generalization) problem behaviors. In addition, the assessment-based intervention received high acceptability ratings from the staff; in contrast, the methods they had used previously (time-out, prompting, and redirection) received low acceptability ratings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-161
Number of pages11
JournalEducation and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Biochemistry


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