Frances McSweeney

Frances McSweeney
Regents Professor of Psychology, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, Washington State University (WSU)

Frances K. McSweeney is Regents Professor of Psychology and Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs at Washington State University (WSU). She received her B. A., Summa cum Laude, from Smith College and her master’s and Ph. D. from Harvard University. She has served WSU as Chair of the Department of Psychology, as Chair of the Faculty Senate and as Vice Provost. Dr. McSweeney has published more than 120 refereed journal articles and has received grants from agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. She has served on the editorial boards of several journals, on two federal grant review panels, and as Associate Editor of Learning and Motivation. She is a fellow of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), the American Psychological Association (APA, Divisions 3 and 25), the Association for Psychological Science, and the Psychonomic Society. She has served as a member of the Executive Council and as President of ABAI. Dr. McSweeney is listed as one of the most prolific authors in Behavior Analysis in Shabani, Carr, Petursdottir, Esch, & Gillett (2004). She has received several awards from her university including the 2002 Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award for Research, Scholarship and Arts, the 2004 Eminent Faculty Award, and the 2016 V. Lane Rawlins Distinguished Lifetime Service Award. In 2007, she received the Med Associates Award for Distinguished Contributions to Behavioral Research from Division 25 of APA. Her research currently focuses on changes in the effectiveness of reinforcers that occur when they are delivered repeatedly.


Habituation to Reinforcers: Why You Should Care


The rate of operant responding is not constant across experimental sessions even when the programmed rate of reinforcement is held constant. Instead, operant responding often increases and then decreases across the session. Response rates may also decrease without increasing or increase without decreasing. I will argue that response rate changes because the delivery of each reinforcer changes the effectiveness of the following reinforcers through sensitization and habituation. I will discuss the history and potential importance of this finding. I will mention some of the rejected alternative explanations for within-session changes in responding and will defend sensitization- habituation as the major explanation. In particular, I will confirm that four of the generally-accepted, but counterintuitive, properties of habituation also occur for within-session changes in responding. These properties are dishabituation, stimulus specificity, variety effects, and stimulus intensity. Because these properties are counterintuitive, they have important implications for anyone who delivers reinforcers in practice.