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Behav Res Ther. 2009 Jan;47(1):41-7. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2008.10.013. Epub 2008 Oct 21.

The development of stimulus control over tics: a potential explanation for contextually-based variability in the symptoms of Tourette syndrome.

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Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI 53201-0413, USA.


Research has demonstrated that providing reinforcement for tic-free intervals can decrease tic frequency in controlled analogue settings. The aim of the current study was to determine whether reinforcement could be used to create stimulus control over tic expression. Ten children with chronic tic disorders (including Tourette syndrome) completed four discrimination training sessions. Each session consisted of three exposures to each of three, 5 min. conditions presented in a random order. In one condition, participants were reinforced for tic absence on a 10-s fixed interval schedule in the presence of a purple light. In a second condition, participants were instructed to suppress their tics, but were not reinforced for doing so in the presence of an orange light. In a third condition, participants were instructed not to suppress their tics in the presence of two non-illuminated lights. Confirming findings from other studies, results showed that reinforcing tic suppression reduced tic frequency to a greater extent than only providing instructions to suppress. To test for stimulus control, a fifth session was conducted following the aforementioned discrimination training sessions. The fifth session consisted of three exposures to each of three 5 min. conditions presented in a random order. In one condition, a purple light was illuminated. In a second condition, an orange light was illuminated. In a third condition, neither light was illuminated. Across all three conditions, instructions to suppress (or not suppress) tics were not provided, and reinforcers for successful suppression were not delivered. Results indicated that in the presence of the purple light, tics were significantly lower than when neither light was illuminated. These findings provide preliminary support for the idea that a history of differential reinforcement in various contexts may play a role explaining variability in tic symptom expression.

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