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Single Subject Design

             Self-control programs, in which one is taught to control one’s own behavior by devising antecedent and consequent events, have been gaining in popularity for quite some time now. A central aspect of these programs is self-reinforcement, in which a subject self-administers reinforcers dependent upon requisite performance. Self-reinforcement techniques have been shown to alter therapeutically a wide variety of behaviors, including studying, eating, depression and smoking, in both educational and clinical settings (Nelson, Hayes, Spong, Jarrett & McKnight, 1983). Although self-reinforcement techniques are generally regarded as being effective, the processes underlying self-reinforcement are widely debated. One argument is that self-reinforcement is realistically a form of reinforcement, in that the consequences delivered by oneself have a direct affect upon response frequency. According to this argument, an increase in response frequency is presumed to occur whether the positive consequence is self-administered or externally-administered. An alternative explanation is the cuing view, which posits that only external environmental events ultimately control response frequency: self-administered consequences serve as cues of these environmental external events which actually control the occurrence of the self-reinforced behavior (Nelson, Hayes, Spong, Jarrett & McKnight, 1983). This cuing view considers self-reinforcement to be effective because of its stimulus properties rather than its motivational properties. The main difference between self- and externally-administered consequences is considered to be temporal. External consequences determine response frequency in both cases, but external reinforcement is only recognized if the consequences are swiftly apparent; if the consequences are postponed, intermediate cues may be mislabeled as self-reinforcement. In a study conducted by Nelson, Hayes, Spong, Jarrett and McKnight (1983), a cuing interpretation of self-reinforcement for exercise behavior was supported.