Investigating reinforcer magnitude and reinforcer delay: a contingency management analog study

Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2012 Aug;20(4):287-92. doi: 10.1037/a0027802. Epub 2012 Jun 11.


The influence of reinforcer magnitude and reinforcer delay on smoking abstinence was studied using an analog model of contingency management. Participants (N = 103, 74% men) visited our laboratory 3 times daily for 5 days and received money for providing a breath sample that indicated smoking abstinence (carbon monoxide level ≤6 parts per million). Using a factorial design, we assigned participants randomly to 1 of 4 groups that could earn a total of either $207.50 (high-magnitude condition) or $70.00 (low-magnitude condition), and received earnings either at each visit (no-delay condition) or in a single lump sum 1 week following the study (delay condition). High-magnitude reinforcement, regardless of delay, was associated with higher rates of abstinence than was low-magnitude reinforcement. High magnitude of reinforcement provided immediately but in incremental amounts was associated with longer intervals to relapse during treatment in comparison with high-magnitude reinforcement provided in a single lump sum after a delay. Low rates of responding in the low-magnitude conditions made interpretation of the impact of delay in those conditions difficult. These findings further demonstrate that high magnitude of reinforcement results in better outcomes than does low magnitude of reinforcement, and that a delay to reinforcement can be detrimental-even when a high magnitude of reinforcement is provided.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Smoking*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome