Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School Psychology

Major Professor

Christopher H. Skinner

Committee Members

R. Steve McCallum, Amy L. Skinner, Richard A. Saudargas


An across-subjects, post-test only design was used in two experiments to assess the impact of interspersing additional math problems (i.e., briefer problems and/or longer problems) among target math problems on students’ persistence when completing computer-delivered math multiplication problems. In Experiment 1, high school students who worked only target problems completed 32% more target problems and worked 22% longer than those who had briefer problems interspersed. Problem completion rates were significantly higher for those who had briefer problems interspersed. These results suggest that altering assignments by interspersing additional, briefer discrete tasks does not always enhance, and in some instances may hinder academic responding. Stimulus preference and within-trial contrast effects provided possible explanations for these results and indicated that interspersing longer problems could, perhaps, cause students to increase persistence. Experiment 2 was designed to replicate Experiment 1 and extend this line of research by investigating the stimulus preference and within-trial contrast hypothesizes.

To increase the number of participants and allow for the evaluation of three conditions, college students served as participants for Experiment 2. In Experiment 2, no significant differences among groups (i.e., control group with only target problems, experimental group with brief problems interspersed, and experimental group with long problems interspersed) were found in the amount of time before college students quit working or in their problem completion accuracy levels. Interspersal of the long problems significantly reduced the number of target problems completed. The results failed to support stimulus preference or within-trial contrast theories.

Discussion focuses on theoretical and applied implications related to the additive interspersal procedure, the discrete task completion hypothesis, and the delay reduction hypothesis. Applied implications suggest that educators avoid interspersing longer discrete tasks and exercise caution when interspersing brief tasks.

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