Whatever Happened to Adjunctive Behavior?

Jeff Kupfer and Ron Allen University of Colorado (Denver) and Simmons University (Boston)

Last month we discussed some potential roots of the apparent schism of ABA/EAB, and noted that practitioners in ABA rarely read current issues of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, while basic researchers rarely read from the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. This month we will explore an area of research that was of interest in the 60s and 70s, but unfortunately seemed to never catch on. But one we think is highly relevant for understanding the variables controlling human behavior.

In 1961, John Falk was examining regulatory behaviors in rats. He arranged for a drink tube with water to be placed in the chamber in which food deprived (not water deprived) rats were responding on a lever for food pellets under a variable-interval (VI)1minute schedule. Water intake measured after 3.17-hour sessions was discovered to be 50% more than they would drink in their home cages with 24 hours access (Falk, 1961).

Falk called this form of polydipsia: Adjunctive Behavior. Specifically, it is behavior (e.g., drinking) that is maintained at a high probability by stimuli (water) during post-reinforcement periods that derive their reinforcing properties as a function of parameters governing the availability of some other class of reinforcement (food). Collectively, these behaviors largely occurred in the immediate post-reinforcement period, were directly related to the level of food deprivation, would maintain operant responses that provided access to the adjunctive behavior (e.g., access to a drink tube), and were excessive in nature (Falk,1971).

The research to follow would demonstrate adjunctive behaviors under a variety of schedule conditions and across a range of behaviors such as: drinking, attack, motor activity, stereotypy, drug-taking, pica, self-imposed time out, and preening. In later years, Falk extrapolated from laboratory research to address the treatment of behavior excessive problems (Falk & Kupfer, 1998) and personal inquiry into adjunctive behavior being at the root of rituals and creativity in cultures (Falk, 1996).

The interest in extending research in adjunctive behavior to humans has been anything but robust. Foster (1978) describes: “Adjunctive behavior is an under-reported phenomenon in applied behavior analysis and is indicative of a continuing trend of mutual isolation of experimental and applied areas.”

Less than a dozen applied studies can be found. Frederiksen & Peterson (1974) examined aggression in nursery school children comparing continuous reinforcement with extinction. Kachanoff et al. (1973) examined the effect of token delivery on fixed-interval schedules on pacing and water consumption with schizophrenic patients. Wieseler et al. (1988) similarly examined the effects of edible reinforcers delivered according to fixed interval schedules on stereotypy in developmentally disabled children. In all these examples, adjunctive behaviors were generated in a manner similar to that described previously with other animals.

One study, (Lerman et al, 1994) considered the possibility that adjunctive behaviors may account for severe self-injurious behaviors and stereotypy; however, the results reported did not point to any consistent patterns of self-injury. Stereotypy remains an open question. It is noteworthy that this study employed response-independent schedules which typically generate less adjunctive behaviors that response-dependent schedules (see Kupfer, Allen, and Malagodi, 2008).

Is adjunctive behavior dead, or just in remission?

Perone and Courtney (1992) offer a chance that adjunctive behavior research may be emerging from its slumber. The analysis of RICH to LEAN schedules suggests that these arrangements of reinforcement may generate, at least extended post-reinforcement pauses, and may also generate adjunctive attack in pigeons (Pitts, Hughes, & Williams, 2019). Further, this research has been extended to humans (Williams, Saunders, & Perone, 2011). These studies and discussions by Lattal, St. Peter, & Escobar (2013) support a unifying description of the processes inherent in Rich-Lean transitions such as that immediately following food delivery during intermittent schedules (described by Lattal et al., 2013 as “local extinction”) and the onset of S-delta during studies of extinction-induced behaviors (e.g., Azrin, Hutchinson, & Hake, 1966). Finally, theoretical articles have emerged recently regarding the connection between adjunctive behavior and operant behavior (Killeen & Pellón, 2013).

Human behavior is replete with excess; internet pornography, substance use/abuse, gambling, over-eating, domestic violence, and others. We believe that adjunctive behavior (or schedule-induced behavior) remains an important area of research and eventual practice, particularly as it relates to motivational properties of scheduled, phylogenetic important events, and the management of excess.


Azrin, N. H., Hutchinson, R. R., & Hake, D. F. (1966). Extinction-induced aggression 1. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of behavior, 9(3), 191-204.

Falk, J.L. (1961). Production of polydipsia in normal rats by an intermittent food schedule. Science, 133, 195-196.

Falk JL. (1971). The nature and determinants of adjunctive behavior. Physiology & Behavior 6, 577-588.

Falk, J.L. (1996). On creation: A meditation from a behavioral perspective. Behaviorology, 4, 3-29.

Falk, J.L. & Kupfer, A.S. (1998). Adjunctive behavior; Application to the analysis and treatment of behavior problems. In W.T. O’Donohue (Ed). Learning and Behavior Therapy, Allyn & Bacon, 334-351.

Frederiksen L.W. & Peterson, G.L. (1971). Schedule induced aggression in nursery school children. Psychological Record, 24, 343-351.

Foster, W. S. (1978). Adjunctive behavior: An under-reported phenomenon in applied behavior analysis? Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 11, 545-546.

Kachanoff, R., Leveille, R. McLelland, J.P. & Wayner, M.J. (1973). Schedule induced behavior in humans. Physiology and Behavior, 11, 395-398.
Killeen, P.R. & Pellón, R. (2011). Adjunctive behaviors are operants. Learning and Behavior, 41, 1-24.

Kupfer, A.S., Allen, R., & Malagodi, E.F. (2008). Induced attack during fixed-ratio and matched-time schedules of food presentation. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 89, 31-48.

Lattal, K. A., St. Peter, C., & Escobar, R. (2013). Operant extinction: Elimination and generation of behavior. In G. J. Madden, W. V. Dube, T. D. Hackenberg, G. P. Hanley, & K. A. Lattal (Eds.), APA handbook of behavior analysis, Vol. 2. Translating principles into practice (pp. 77–107). American Psychological Association.

Lerman, D.C., Iwata, B.A., Zarcone, J.R., & Ringdahl, J. (1994). Assessment of stereotypic and self-injurious behaviors as adjunctive responses. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27, 715-728.

Perone, M. & Courtney, K. (1992). Fixed-ratio pausing: Joint effects of past reinforcer magnitude and stimuli correlated with upcoming magnitude. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 57, 33-46.

Pitts, R.C., Hughes, C.E., & William, D.C. (2019). Transitions from rich-to-lean schedules increase attack in a laboratory model of social aggression in pigeons: II. Fixed-interval schedules. Revista Mexicana de Analisis de la Conducta, 45 (2), 519-546.

Wieseler, N.A., Hanson, R.H., Chamberlain, T.P., & Thompson, T. (1988). Stereotypic behavior of mentally retarded adults adjunctive to a positive reinforcement schedule. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 9, 393-403.

Williams, D.C., Saunders, K.J., & Perone, M. (2011). Extended pausing by humans on multiple fixed-ratio schedules with varied reinforcer magnitude and response requirement. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 95, 203-220.