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J Appl Behav Anal. 1995 Fall; 28(3): 245–260.
PMCID: PMC1279823

The costs of eating: a behavioral economic analysis of food refusal.


Behavioral economic concepts were applied to the analysis and treatment of pediatric feeding disorders in a clinical setting. In Experiment 1, children who chronically refused food were presented with varying amounts of food on a spoon (empty, dipped, quarter, half, and level). Each child exhibited a different but orderly demand function of response (acceptance, expulsion, and mouth clean) by cost (increasing spoon volume) for a constant pay-off of toys and social interaction. In Experiment 2, physical guidance or nonremoval of the spoon for food refusal was initiated at the smallest spoon volume with low levels of acceptance, and was subsequently introduced at the largest spoon volume with moderate levels of acceptance. Treatment was effective in increasing acceptance, and these effects generalized hierarchically across untargeted spoon volumes. The results of both studies provide preliminary support that increasing spoon volume can be equated conceptually with increasing response effort, and that the change from differential reinforcement to physical guidance or nonremoval of the spoon appears to have altered the elasticity of each child's demand function.

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Selected References

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