Matching theory applied to contingent teacher attention

Brian K. Martens, Silas Halperin, John E. Rummel, David Kilpatrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The present study evaluated Herrnstein's mathematical statement of the law of effect as a description of teacher attention contingent on regular classroobehavior. The subject was a 6-year-old boy attending a remedial summer school program. On-task and off-task student behavior as well as eight categories of teacher attention were monitored over a two-week period using a computerassisted observation system. Momentary indices of contingent and concurrently available attention were obtained from the observational data for each student-behavior category. The data were then partitioned into successive intervals of concurrently available attention and fit by Herrnstein's equation. Results showed Herrnstein's equation to account for an average 51% of the variance in on-task behavior and 47% of the variance in off-task behavior. In addition, the fitted hyperbolic functions varied in shape with the mean observed values of concurrently available attention in the manner predicted by the matching law. Results are discussed in terms of the relevance of matching theory to classroom behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-155
Number of pages17
JournalBehavioral Assessment
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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