Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Experiment 1
 Experiment 2
 Experiment 3
 Experiment 4
 Experiment 5
 Experiment 6
 General discussion
 Biographical sketch

Group Title: exploration of character emission rates in composition
Title: An exploration of character emission rates in composition
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00099533/00001
 Material Information
Title: An exploration of character emission rates in composition
Physical Description: vi, 57 leaves : ill. ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Merbitz, Charles Timothy, 1946-
Publication Date: 1975
Copyright Date: 1975
Subject: English language -- Composition and exercises -- Research   ( lcsh )
Psychology thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Psychology -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaf 56.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
Statement of Responsibility: by Charles Timothy Merbitz.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00099533
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000172516
oclc - 02972994
notis - AAT8954


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Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page i
        Page ii
        Page iii
    Table of Contents
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
    Experiment 1
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
    Experiment 2
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
    Experiment 3
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
    Experiment 4
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
    Experiment 5
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
    Experiment 6
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
    General discussion
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
    Biographical sketch
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
Full Text








I am especially indebted to Dr. H. S. Pennypacker,

the Chairman of my Supervisory Committee, and to all of

the other members of my committee, for their unflagging dif-

ferential positive reinforcement of successive approxi-

mations of productive professional behavior, both with

respect to this paper and to other work. Dr. M. K. Gold-

stein, Dr. John Newell, and Dr. Frank Sieka were especially

instrumental in my progression here.

I am also deeply grateful for the support and en-

couragement given me by my wife, Gloria, without whom even

the beginning of this undertaking would have been doubtful,

and who gave crucial support to the whole enterprise.

Special thanks go to David M. Smolen, who wrote

the computer programs used and gave help and valuable ad-

vice on data analyzed.

I wish also to thank the people who volunteered to

serve as subjects, often giving time and effort well beyond

any possible formal reward. I cannot express my apprecia-

tion deeply enough for the efforts of all these people.


Physical support was provided by several organi-

zations. The Personalized Learning Center helped greatly

with some office space, a stopwatch, and some computer

terminal time. Dr. M. Branch lent the Running Time Meter.

Finally, the University of Florida College of Arts and

Sciences and the Northeast Regional Data Center jointly

provided the computer funds used.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . . . . . ... .... ii

ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . v

INTRODUCTION . . . . . ... . . . . 1

EXPERIMENT 1 . . . .. . . . . . . 8

EXPERIMENT 2 . . . . . . . . . 19

EXPERIMENT 3 . ... . . . . . . . . . 26

EXPERIMENT 4 . ... . . . . . . . 30

EXPERIMENT 5 ... . . . . . . . . 41

EXPERIMENT 6 . . . . . . . ... . 48

GENERAL DISCUSSION .... . . . . . . .51

REFERENCES . .... . . . . . . ... .56

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . .. ....... .57

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Charles Timothy Merbitz

December, 1975

Chairman: H. S. Pennypacker
Major Department: Psychology

Six experiments explored character and word emission

rates under controlled conditions with a variety of subjects.

Day to day stability was seen in both character and word

emission rates, but first session rates were not reliable

indicators of general rate. Specific experimental tasks

tended to control distinct rates. Both self-timing and re-

lease from tasks changed character rates, while self-timing

was also seen with longer durations of writing. The control

of character topography by consequences was also demonstrated,

and a large effect was noted. Thus, both operant antecedent

and consequent control of both response rate and topography

was demonstrated for written composition.

Both hand written compositions and compositions

written on a typewriter (computer keyboard) on various topics


and with various constraints were assessed. Suggestions

for easier and cheaper measurements were made. Results

were related to measurement problems in the teaching of

essays, and suggestions for teacher measurement of compo-

sition activity in the classroom were made.


If an experimental analysis of written composition

is to proceed, a unit of response must be defined. Find-

ley's (1962) work on multi-operant repertoires clearly

showed the possibilities of a unit that itself was com-

posed of smaller units of response. If language behavior

in general and written composition in particular are anal-

ogous to Findley's multi-operant repertoires, we may be

able to proceed with units defined at several levels. Bas-

ically, written materials are defined by combinations of

curved and straight lines and dots. Gonzalez and Waller

(1974) reported records generated by two subjects writing

on an apparatus that responded to variations in pen pres-

sure, and defined one class of responses by microswitch

closures of .5 sec minimum duration between minimally

specified IRTs. They found handwriting rates while writing

were stable despite differences in schedule of reinforce-

ment in effect but the schedule did control the pattern of

pausing such that interval and ratio components of a mult

FR FI LH are clearly distinguishable.

A larger response unit that has been considered

is the word. Brigham, Graubard, and Stans (1972) reported


the results of several operations on mean word counts in

a 5th grade "adjustment" class. In "Baselind'all students

got points for sitting and writing during the writing

period. Points were exchangeable for generally unspeci-

fied privileges and activities in the room. In the "Number

of Words" condition, one point was given for each word in

the stories written. In the next condition, "Different

Words," two additional points were given for each initial

use of a word in that story. Finally, in the "New Words"

phase, the children were given an additional three points

for each word that had never appeared in a previous story.

An alphabetized list of all words used in earlier stories

was provided for each child. Groups A (n=5) and B (n=3)

experienced all conditions, while Group C (n=5) was ex-

posed only to baseline and "Number of Words" conditions.

The authors reported mean numbers of words written per

group per session in each condition, mean numbers of "Dif-

ferent Words," and mean numbers of "New Words," as well as

the mean times. In addition, the stories were rated on

a 25-point scale and the ratings of each story were given.

Inspection of the figures revealed a marked similarity in

the shape of the functions for each measure within each

group. The similarity of the time function to the others

suggested that conversion of the counts to rates may re-

veal otherwise obscured relationships.

Figures 1 through 4 of Brigham et al. were con-

verted to tables and the rates of words emitted per minute

were calculated and charted (Figures 1 and 2, see data dis-

play section below for graphing conventions). Since

Brigham et al. report sessions "twice a week" on the aver-

age, T Th lines were used for plotting. It was apparent

that the major effect of the first contingency imposed

(Number of Words) was to simply increase the time the

children spent writing. Rates of word production were

quite variable, and no consistent effect was obvious. The

authors report rising quality point ratings during the ex-

perimental period, and suggest that it was possible that

the rise in ratings associated with the "New Words" condition

may have been the result of direct attempts to use new words, as

.they worked harder and spent more
time on the sentences, thereby producing
more and better ideas while actually
writing less. (p. 429)

More time was indicated on the graphs, but the word

production rates did not drop, as this interpretation

requires. Also, the mean ratings the stories received

were charted as quality units per minute emitted by each

group. Little change appeared in Group A's quality unit

production rates throughout the experiment, except for a

drop in sessions 9 and 10. Group B shows more variability,

and also seems to share a small dip for those two sessions

(among others). Group C shows the clear experimental ef-

fect of the "Number of Words" contingency-while the word





*10 -


0 1





F rl""l""l( 1-1~r-I7

1 Baseline
2 Number of
3 New words
4 Different

Group B

- m I- -" I

Figure 1. Chart of

Successive Calendar Days-
longer marks indicate Sundays
data from Brigham, Graubard and Stans.

- -reciprocal of. mean
minutes spent writing
*-mean words/min.
A-mean different words/min.
mean new words/min.
x.-mean quality units/min.

Group A

, . I ,



S "- .. .. |

- -reciprocal of mean minutes spent writing
* -mean words per minute
A -mean different words per minute
a -mean new words per minute
X -mean quality units per minute

1 Baseline
2 Number of words

1.TT1rr;,.1I.rJr. I II**I*11 I~ ~lI..*,~S5J*I...I*II*I~*.II

! .... ''.I. "1 ...... I" '. " ".| "
Successive Calendar Days. Longer marks indicate Sundays.

Figure 2. Chart of data from Brigham, Graubard and Stans. Group C.

I i I II 9 I I



100 -


10 -








' 0 *

rates remain roughly stable, much more time was spent, and

a very marked decrease in quality units per minute emitted

is seen, denoting less efficiency. Plots of quality unit

and word rates for the same sessions seem to suggest co-

variation in trend, although the effect was not reliably

seen. Difficulties in further interpretation lie in

the problems inherent in converting graphed points to rate

data and the report of group means rather than individual

performances (Sidman, 1960).

In another study involving composition writing,

Maloney and Hopkins (1973) reported the use of a permuta-

tion of the "Good Behavior Game" to change the number of

different adjectives, action verbs, and sentence beginnings

in 17 ten-sentence stories written by 14 fourth through

sixth graders. They found no change in character or word

emission rates throughout the study, but did report that

selective reinforcement with extra recess and candy did

change subjective ratings of the creativity of the stories.

They did not report the rates of behavior.

Van Houten, Morrison, Jarvis, and McDonald (1974)

reported rates of word emission for children in one second

and two fifth grade classes. They discovered that ex-

plicit timing and feedback from the children counting

their own words roughly doubled the response rate, from

three to six words/min.,in ten sessions. Stories were

also rated on five dimensions, and the ratings were higher

during each of the timing and feedback phases. Feedback

was provided by letting the children count their own

words, which they did with 80-100% accuracy.

Of the three studies, only Van Iiouten et al.

showed a rate increase, while all three reported "quality"

increases during the experimental period.

While assessment of composition quality remains

an important issue, measurement of composition rates is

also needed. The studies cited above support the notion

that counting the words emitted per minute by subjects

writing essays may reveal interesting relationships be-

tween essay rates and environmental events. However, a

gap existed in units of analysis at the level of the

character between the behaviors recorded by Gonzalez and

Waller and words counted by the others. The goals of the

present work were,therefore,completely exploratory to

measure some writing rates, to begin definition of a

dependent measure of writing rates, and to examine rela-

tive sensitivity of rates of character and word emission.

The research was not structured initially; rather as in-

teresting phenomena came to light, new directions were



To begin the investigation of compositional rea-

sponse rates, subjects were timed while they performed var-

ious writing tasks. One subject was seen in three pre-

liminary sessions to establish timing procedures and ex-

perimental tasks.


Subjects and Apparatus

Subjects S-802, S-803, S-506, and S-805 were fe-

male college students enrolled in Psy. 201 and serving for

experimental credit. The first three were 18-year-old third

quarter freshmen; S-805 was 19. Three subjects were black;

S-506 was white. Session 1 for S-802 was timed with a

Westclox (General Time) stopwatch; all other sessions were

timed withaRunning Time Meter (Cramer Controls). Experi-

mental sessions were held in an office approximately 4 m

x 5 m x 2.5 m containing two desks, files, chairs, and

common office furnishings. Subjects were run individually,

generally during normal school hours. Paper and a vari-

ety of ballpoint pens were provided by the E. Before

beginning, the purposes and methods of the experiment were

explained to each subject and a standard informed consent

form was signed by each subject.


While sitting at the E's desk, subjects were given

an experimental task number from the E's data sheet to

write at the top of a fresh sheet of paper. They were then

given specifications for the writing task to be'performed.

When ready, the timer was started and they wrote until

told to stop. They then counted the words (or characters)

written, the count was recorded, and rates calculated and

displayed on six cycle semilog Standard Behavior Charts.

The pattern was repeated until termination of the session.

Subjects were asked to indicate any excessive hand fatigue.

An informal and relaxed atmosphere was maintained, and all

questions were answered fully. Words were counted by S-802

and during S-803's first two sessions. All subsequent counts

were of characters.

Experimental Tasks

Experimental tasks included copying a text which

had been typed with six words per line on a duplication

Since tasks were standardized for Exp. 2, a more
detailed description of procedure is presented in the
method section of Exp. 2.

master. Triple spacing permitted subjects to write between

the lines and thus keep eye shifts to a minimum. Subjects

were also asked to write short essays on topics with which

they felt some emotional involvement. A free association task

(FA) was defined by instructing subjects to simply write

whatever came to their mind. Limited association (LA) was

simply all that they could think of to write relevant to a

given topic. Other tasks included listing all of the pos-

sible uses for a specified common object ("Uses for . ."),

signing one's name, writing the alphabet, and writing a list

of all the objects in the room. Subjects were also asked to

generate lists of nouns, and were later asked to list ad-

jectives or verbs appropriate to the nouns listed.

Data Display

Following a common practice in graphing dynamic

phenomena in other natural sciences, semilogarithmic charts

were used to keep and display frequency of response data.

Two general types of charts were used: In the first,

the count per minute of behavior was displayed on the

line corresponding to the calendar day the data were col-

lected. The second displayed the count per minute of be-

havior, but successive lines represent successive experi-

mental tasks within one session. All data were labelled

with true calendar days to permit unambiguous indication

of the time relationships between various experimental

events. The log scale allows accurate predictions and both

absolute and relative comparison of data from different

subjects. The dots and x's indicate frequencies of be-

havior on the indicated day, and the dashes show the recipro-

cal of the time spent observing. Thus, the lower the dot,

the lower the rate of behavior, while the lower the dash,

the longer the time spent observing.

Reliability ', r

Subjects were informed that spot checks were made

of their counts. Limited resources did not permit all

counts to be verified, but 50% of the experimental tasks

were recounted. The accuracy of match between subjects'

counts and reliability counts ranged from 88% to 100%,

with 13 % of the subjects' counts inaccurate. Letters,

numbers, and punctuation marks were all counted as characters.

Of -the errors, 55% involved miscounts by two or less characters.


Frequencies of words written per minute by S-802

are displayed as x's on Figure 3, while frequencies of char-

acters written per minute (counted post hoc) are indicated

by dots. Note the parallel relationship between the two

frequencies in the copying task, in which the average word

length was fixed by the original author. In the FA tasks,


50 -




o .05 -
o .05

Rates FA Rate Essay
.01- Rates

.005 -

23 Apr 24 Apr23 Apr 22 May 22 May
S24 Apr

Figure 3. Chart of character (*) and word (x) emission rates for S-802 on indicated days.

some deviation from a fixed relationship was seen, partially

due to a comparatively low word rate in the first FA task.

Also, average word length changes from approximately 4

characters per word in the FA tasks to 3.5 for the essay.

Figure 4 shows frequencies of word and character

production for S-803. During sessions on 5/21 and 5/22,

only word counts were made. Note the steady rise in the

FA and LA word frequencies for those days. Post hoc char-

acter counts indicated that the rise in word count was a

result of shortening word length. (A similar effect may

be seen in the 4/23 FA rates of S-802.) The effects of

the subsequent shift to character frequencies over the next

four sessions were to slightly raise the character frequen-

cies while word frequencies gradually declined as word

length increased. Frequencies of word and character pro-

duction when the S was asked to list nouns were also shown,

as were the frequencies of production when the S was asked

to write adjectives and verbs appropriate to the nouns on

the list. Note the much lower frequencies seen with verbs.

Two lists were used, in the order ABA AB BA. Note that

list B always controlled lower frequncies. List B was gen-

erated on 5/22, and list A was the second noun list generated

on 6/5. The last two pairs of rates were generated under

the instruction to simply produce lists of adjectives. The

first performance of the "Uses for common objects"

tasks was not a good indicator of usual frequencies

3 4' 5 '11

Letter and word

22 5
May June

All FA and LA tasks

S'12 June

1 adjectives
2 verbs
3 adjectives

"Uses for"

4 adjectives (free)



Calendar days

Figure 4. Chart of character (.) and word frequencies (x) on successive experimental
tasks done on indicated days by S-803. Signature rates are plotted the
calendar days emitted.

--f I-- -I- I


100 -

Word counts

52 .I



displayed by S-803. Also shown were her essay rates and

her rate of character writing when signing her name.

Data from S-805 are shown in Figure 5. On two

successive days, the same object was presented (a brick)

in the "Uses for . ." task. Note the jump in frequency

of response. Essay and signature rates were unexceptional.

Four tasks (list nouns, list adjectives appropriate to

the nouns, list more nouns, and list verbs appropriate

to the nouns) involving listing and relationships of nouns,

verbs, and adjectives were presented on 6/8. Note the

slower adjective rate-the first list of nouns generated

contained all proper nouns. Also shown on Figure 5 were

.5 min. and five 2 min. FA rates which were collected on

6/3. Each half minute during the longer samples was

announced, and the S drew a line and continued writing,

thus permitting sectioning of the sample into half-minute

segments. Note the slight drop in frequency as the samples

become longer.

Frequencies of character writing from S-506 were

plotted on Figure 6. Her signature and alphabet writing

rates seemed stable, as did her essay writing rates. Her

description of the room tasks was segmented into quarter

minutes, and the total overall rates as well as the first.

quarter and half minute rates were shown. The first sample

rate was taken for .25 min., and was lower than comparable

first quarter rates,.although close to the overall rates


8 June

w- '.

3 June 11 June

Successive Days

Signature "Uses for

ouns Total




.5 1.0 1.5
rates for successive
cumulative recording
(June 3)

Figure 5. Chart of frequencies of character emission rates by S-805. Signature and "Uses
for a brick" rates are plotted on the calendar days the tasks were performed.
Longer lines indicate Sundays. Other tasks are plotted as successive perform-
ances on the days listed.

25 May

1 June


1 t h... i

,1 I*^ ^ "'''" "''" I. .

1 June 1 June 1 June 1 June

Alphabet Describe room quarter time half time

Successive Calendar Days within Task Groups.

1 June


Figure 6. Chart of character rates on indicated tasks performed by S-506. Panels 5 and 6
show .25 and .5 minute recording times for the performances shown in Panel 4.

. 1 t 1 0

8 June

"Uses for"





1LL 0

rates of the longer timings. The essay and "uses for

rates were unexceptional.


In general, character emission rates seem to be

stable and predictable. Word rates seem less desirable

as indicators, as S-802 and S-803 show a change in word

rate without parallel movement in character rates. Further

work involving fewer but more standardized tasks and

shorter session lengths but more repeated measures was



Two subjects served to establish the daily sta-

bility of character emission rates, and one of those sub-

jects demonstrated a change in rates. Procedures were

designed to shorten experimental sessions and tasks were



Subjects and Apparatus

Subject S-380 was a 38-year-old female college

graduate. Subject S-922 was a 27-year-old female teacher

with a master's degree. Both of these Ss consented to

serve "to help the E find out about writing." Experi-

mental sessions were held in the E's kitchen in the even-

ings after both Ss completed working days. A variety of

ballpoint pens was again provided and unlined paper

approximately 19 x 28 cm. was obtained by cutting used

computer output paper in half with a bandsaw. Subjects

wrote on the blank side. Timing was again done by manually

operating the running time meter to signal the beginning

and end of writing activities. The timer was checked against


the internal clock of the NERDC IBM 370/165 computer and

found to be accurate.


Since tasks were much more standardized in Exp. 2,

procedures will be described in more detail.

A subject was seated at a table with pens and paper.

Each task was numbered, and the S was asked to write her

subject number and the task number (supplied by the E) on a

sheet of paper. At a signal from the E the subject signed

her name as many times as she could until the E signalled

her to stop. She then counted all of the characters written

and announced the count to the E, who recorded the details

on her data sheet and plotted the performance on a standard

behavior chart. The alphabet was next written under sim-

ilar conditions, followed by either a short essay concerning

a picture the E presented, or a task in which all the dif-

ferent possible uses for a common object named by the E

were listed. The final task was typically a "free-associ-

ation," in which the S wrote anything (comparable to Gonzalez

and Waller's task).


After 6 sessions, S-922 asked when she could quit,

and at the next session she was told "we can drop any task

on which you exceed a goal rate for 5 out of 6 days." At

her next session S-380 was also presented with this state-



Pictures were provided to write about for the

"Picture Essay" (PE) experimental task. Illustrations were

cut from magazine advertisements or feature articles (typi-

cally color photos) and identifying text was cropped or

obliterated. An effort was made to locate provocative

pictures with an obvious point, such as those often seen in

Psychology Today.

Another experimental task ("Uses for .") in-

volved listing as many uses as possible for common objects

named by the E. Objects included rubber bands, a pencil,

paperclips, a brick, a bicycle, a safety pin, Scotch tape,

a house, a car, a park, a barn, money, a rope, and a coin.

Objects were named by the E in varying orders to each subject.

Daily charts and data sheets were kept on each S,

and were shown whenever requested. Usually, subjects merely

glanced at both.


Figures 7 and 8 show the rate of character emission

per minute by S-922 and S-380 respectively. The heavy dark

line on the figures indicate the presentation of the statement

..... .... .... I

- e. l +

22 .June
22 June

A *0 e

22 June

22 June

. a .9 -*,

.1 Imrhmr

a- rI...

ti t

22 June

Mean rate 186.3 211.3
index .119 .175

158.6 187.6

.063 .065

Picture essay. Uses for . .

168.5 193.6

.20 .113

152.1 178

.071 .28

155.8 186.8

.082 .23

Figure 7. Chart of characters emission rates of S-922 before and after contingency
arrangement (vertical line). ++ indicate repeated presentation of the same
stimuli. Performances are plotted in successive calendar days within each
panel. Mean pre and post contingency rates are given with mean stability
indexes. Stabilities were calculated by dividing the ranges of the last 5
persons by the median.



.... .. ....

., N

S, % A

22 June


22 June

*.*. .

22 June

S...T1 ......

22 June


Uses for

Picture essays

Figure 8. Chart of character emission rate for S-380 on indicated tasks. Successive
calendar days plotted within each panel. ++ indicate repeated presentation
of same stimuli. Vertical lines indicate contingency announcement.

- Itrrr3mr

100 -



5 -

* * *


22 June



on quitting to the subjects. Note the immediate effect on

S-922. She was writing her signature at an average rate of

183.6 characters per minute prior to the announcement, and

after it her rate averaged 211.3 characters per minute.

Similar increases may be seen in the other tasks. Note

also the increase in variability after the contingency an-

nouncement. Daily and average pre- and post-announcement

rates are given on Figure 7.

No such effect was noted for S-380. For'this S,

replication points were provided by presenting the same

stimulus object in the "Uses for . ." task on two dif-

ferent occasions, as indicated. Note also the "banding"

exhibited by this subject. Each task controls a different

set of rates of character emission.


These two subjects provide evidence of the stability

of the rate of character emission in daily experimental

sessions. The effect of the contingency arrangement on

S-922's rate indicated that perhaps the operant conditioning

model would indeed be appropriate for written composition.

In addition, S-922 started at a very high baseline rate, com-

pared to the subjects seen in Experiment 1. The failure of

the announcement to move S-380's rates simply suggest that

it was inappropriate for her. In view of the weakness of


the E's nominal control over the total environments of both

of these subjects, the experimental control shown by the

stability for the rates and the movement of S-922 suggest

that character rates may well be an excellent experimental

measure and that the tasks selected produce behavior that

is readily ameniable to experimental analysis.


Since the tasks used in Experiment 2 never lasted

more than 2 min each, longer sessions and longer task

lengths were necessary to begin exploration of the effects

of these conditions on the writing rates.


Subject and Apparatus

A 22-year-old male student (S-061) was promised

"experimental credit" slips toward Psychology 201 extra

credit on an hour-for-hour basis. He had received an

incomplete in PSY 201 the previous term and was allowed

to turn in credit slips as well as completing other re-

quired course work. The credit slips were due July 16,

but he agreed to keep serving after that time even though

all credit usable had been earned by that date. Typically,

20-30 min of conversation with the E followed each session.

Apparatus and procedures were the same as in Experi-

ment 2, except that essays on "emotional" topics were sub-

stituted for FAs, S-016 timed himself and sessions were held

in the E's office on campus, with S-016 seated at the E's desk. No


graphs or charts were made or shown to S-016 during this

period. However, his data sheet was not concealed and he

occasionally inspected it.


Figure 9 shows the daily rates for S-016 on each

task. Note that with free essays as S-016 was permitted

.to time himself, the length of time he spent writing appre-

ciably increased. However, in spite of the increase, his

rates remained remarkably stable, even when he wrote for

as long as 18 minutes. After that session his time de-

creases, and then he showed a fluctuation in rate. His

signature and alphabet rates seem stable. (The first four

alphabet rates were written in capitals; he spontaneously

changed to lower case letters at the fifth session.) Four

objects were presented twice, and only one showed very close

rates on the two occasions. Picture essay rates increased

also after the procedure was changed so that S-016 time



The data from the first 6 free essays of S-016 indi-

cate that character counts can be quite stable even for

relatively long essays (18 min.). However, later sessions

show unexplained jumps in the rates. It was planned that


100 .'f A *

50 "

10 11 11 D

a 1
6 July Alphabet

o Signature ...... I..i "" | 'i .
o 500
6 July S-Timed 6 July

100 Uses for
1 6 July Free essays

N Figure 9. Charts of character emission rates for S-016
10 on indicated tasks. (N) indicates different
5 locations for session. Letters indicate re-
peated presentation of stimuli. Successive
calendar days are plotted within panels.

6 July


S-016's alphabet and picture essay performances would be

charted in order to observe the effect of presentation of

the chart on both a steady and a fluctuating rate. However,

S-016 decided to terminate and the operation was impossible.

The effects of permitting the S to time himself was, in

general, to raise the rates, and to increase the time spent



One of the problems associated with investigation

of character emission rates was the tremendous tedium of

counting characters. Accordingly, a computer program was

obtained to count, time and calculate rates on material

typed in as text. Comparison of typed rates of character,

word, and sentence production seemed appropriate, and the

use of the machine permitted more efficient use of subject

time, since counting was not required. In addition an

attempt was made to investigate the effects of constrain-

ing the experimental task in different ways. Rates of

character emission of both hand written and typed materials

were collected.


Subject and Apparatus

An 18-year-old female currently enrolled in PSY 201

(S-157) served under the promise of experimental credit and

help with study skills. Se accumulated approximately 21

hours of experimental credit, of which 5.5 was the maximum

useful. Her efforts to find a job were discussed with the

E, as well as other personal issues, although study skills

were not. She reported preexisting typing skills and agreed

to compose essays on a typewriter. For the first 11 sessions,

S-157 followed the same general procedures and used the same

apparatus as S-016, except that she always used and brought

the same pen to experimental sessions, and her first ten

sessions were charted as were S-922's and S-380's. In addition,

sessions 12 through 19 included work on the computer terminal,

and some tasks were dropped. (See Figures 10 and 11.)

Two sessions (12 and 13) were held in a room as-

signed for student computer terminal use, containing ap-

proximately 20 assorted computer terminals and keypunches.

Since S-157's session time was approximately noon, the ter-

minal work room was full and noisy. Accordingly, arrange-

ments were made to use another machine during the lunch

hour of a terminal operator in the central administration

building, since no access was permitted to the psychology

department's terminal. All terminals used were IBM 2741's,

which resemble Selectric typewriters. Basically, the com-

puter timed each line typed on the terminal, and counted

the characters, words, and blanks. Upon command, the count

and rate of word, character, and blank production were

printed out for each line, as well as the time and its

reciprocal, and the overall averages for the whole perform-

ance. Sentence rates were determined by post hoc hand count.

Sequence of Operations

For her first 11 sessions, S-157 performed the same

tasks as S-922 and S-380, except that at her 9th, 10th, and

llth sessions she ended the "Uses for . ," Picture Essay,

and Free Assoc. tasks "when she was done," as did S-106.

After session 9, her charts were no longer shown. After

session 7 she was asked to raise her rates, and after ses-

sion 10 she was told that if she could raise her alphabet

rates to 175 (from approximately 156) characters per min.,

the alphabet task could be dropped. At session 9 an essay

on an "emotional" topic was added. At session 12, all tasks

except the picture essays and the essays on emotional top-

ics were dropped, and two or three of each were done every

session. For sessions 15 through 29 two PE's were done by

hand, and two were done on the terminal as well as one or

two essays on the terminal. Hand tasks were done first.

One in each mode was to contain a question as every other

sentence, and the orders were varied. At session 21, in-

stead of questions, each sentence was to start a new line

on half the PE's. At session 24, errorless performances

were attempted and three texts were copied, as S-157 was

going for a job interview and she wished to practice her

typing skills. Before each performance during all subse-

quent sessions, word counts and rates done on the previous

performance were announced with a request that she raise

word rates, regardless of the effect on character rates.

After each performance, the rates were checked and high

rates occasioned praise. For all terminal work, a clock was

started when each performance began and after two to three

minutes the S was told she could stop writing whenever she



After the final experimental session, S-157 revealed

that she had been taking amphetamine (Desoxyn, 15 mg.) every

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout the experimental

period and for months before it. She had selected the alter-

nating days regimen to avoid habituation. At the same time,

she also admitted to regular (daily) use of marijuana.

Mechanical Difficulties.

Several problems are associated with use of the com-

puter. First, some sessions were terminated early due to

general temporary failure of the whole computing system.

Secondly, overstrikes resulted in transmission of unrecogniz-

able characters, and the computer responded by reprinting the

line typed in up to the point of the overstruck character.

Finally, during the return of the typing ball from the right

side of the keyboard to the left, the keyboard locked, and

remained locked momentarily before more characters could be

typed. Timing was only of the actual time the keyboard was

unlocked, but the slowness of the return was noted by sub-



Figure 10 displayed S-157's character emission rates

for Free Association, "Uses for ..," alphabet, and sig-

nature tasks for her first 11 sessions. Variability in the

data for the week of July 6 for the signature and "Uses for

task suggests drug activity. The effects of self-

timing on both FA and "Uses for ." rates seems to have

been to drop the rates slightly, but recovery and rise was

rapid. The interruption of the experimental session by a

telephone call to the E (point a) had a powerful effect on

character rates. Adaptation to the experimental data tasks

was especially marked in the alphabet task.

Figure 11 showed rates of behavior for the first 11

Picture Essays (PEs) and experimental PEs with declarative

statements and questions alternating. Both hand and computer

PEs were performed in both free and "alternating question"

style, and the order of free vs. question was balanced. No

great effect on rates was noted.

Figure 12 displays overall rates of word and char-

acter production for all computer "Emotional Essays" (EEs).

Several days of "Uses for . ." and copying tasks were also

shown. Rates appear steady.

Character, word, and sentence rates for all PEs

done on the terminals were shown on Figure 13. Notations

of X with performances from 7/27 to 7/30 indicate questions


100 -

10 -


22 June



I I .


29 June

Uses for


29 June


Charts of character emission rates for S-157. Repeated symbols with
"Uses for .. ." indicated repeated presentation of same stimuli.
Point "a" indicates phone call to E. Successive calendar days are plotted
within task groups. The change seen in FA rates seems to be the result
of an increase in writing time.

Figure 10.


-- -1- .

29 June

iooo .....I ......"1 ............I ...
500 + .

Hand written PE rates

Panel 1
Stopped showing chart
Rates not shown

Panel 2
PE ratesX indicates
past perfect tense
(. indicate every
other sentence
a question

Computer written PE rates

Panel 3 Panel 4
Computer PE rates Computer PE rates
1 Every other
sentence a ques-
2 Start each sentence
at right margin

Figure 11. PE rates for S-157. All panels are of successive calendar days.
Repeated symbols indicate repeated presentation of stimuli.

1. 1.


50 '

5 .

..... .. .... I .. .... 1
c b

13 July
WC '

13 July

20 July

20 July

27 July






7--- -

Dates 18 July 21 23 24 25

M Tu Th

28 29 31

Emotional Essays


6 Aug 7


_I- I

11 12 15 Aug

Emotional essays

Successive tasks within experimental sessions for S-157. Character (.)
and word (X) frequencies are indicated for the days and dates listed.
"Uses for. ." rates are plotted on successive calendar days with the
amount of money presented as the simulus to write about.

Figure 12.

I 1$1000
Uses for

** **

W Th F


V- h ---

4 Aug 6 7

11 Aug 12 14 15

Figure 13. Character (4) word (x) and sentence (A) emissions. Rates of S-157
working on the computer terminal are plotted for successive picture
essays during experimental sessions on listed days. "R" indicates
normal instructions while "0" indicates essays in which every other
sentence was to be a question.


18 July

... pr...


A dV


'*,*** **-.











12 August

Successive lines of print

Figure 14. Charts of line by line character (.) and word (x) rates for picture
essay written 8/11 and 8/12 by S-157.



alternating with declarative sentences, while R indicates

no special instructions. Beginning on 8/4, a carriage re-

turn was keyed with every period, question mark, or ex-

clamation point. Subsequently, character and word rates

rose slightly. The imposition of positive statements after

higher rates and statements of previous word rates on 8/11

was associated with increased variability in character and

word rates, and a slight rise in rate. Line by line rates

of word and character production from all PEs written on

8/11 and 8/12 were displayed on Figure 14. Note the dif-

ferences in bounce and patterning of the word rates and

character rates.


Stable character rates were seen within task

groupings with S-157 and an effect was noted for self-

timing. Inspection of the PE records on Figure 14 re-

vealed changes in rate trends between each level of re-

sponse recorded, which may be due to the fact that while

character sizes were fairly standard, word and sentence

sizes varied.

The effect of the drugs taken by S-157 seemed to

be minimal, as the most marked effect easily attributable

to the drug was not seen across all behaviors. A larger

dose may have shown greater, more easily identified effects.


The general measurement tactics and procedures de-

scribed previously were also applied to other subjects,

thus forming a set of replications. One of the subjects

serving in this phase was not a native English speaker.


Subjects and Apparatus

Four subjects served in the replications of experi-

ments 1-3. Subject S-517 was an 18-year-old male first term

freshman, who served in the study in an effort to learn more

about his writing. Subject S-001 was a 19-year-old fourth

term female college student with a history of academic dif-

ficulty. She was serving in return for study skills help.

Subjects S-99 (24 years old) and S-202 (20 years old) were

both female college students serving for PSY 201 experimental

credit. All subjects except S-999 were black, native English

speakers; S-999 was an Iranian citizen who learned English

in school. Apparatus, tasks, and procedures were the same

as those used in Experiment 2, except that S-202 wrote let-

ters to friends instead of essays,andcharts were not drawn


and shown to the subjects. On essay and letter tasks, sub-

jects were generally permitted to time themselves.

Subject S-314 was a 21-year-old female serving for

PSY 201 experimental credit. She generated stories, picture

essays, and letters using a computer terminal and the same

program as was used by S-157.


Figures 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19 display the rates of

character permission per minute for each task performed by

each subject. The data resemble charts previously shown for

other subjects, except that attendance was generally more

sporadic and fewer sessions were run. Note that the first

data point was quite representative of frequencies of be-

havior for S-001, and was moderately representative for

S-517, while S-202's first letter rate was not a good indi-

cator. For three out of the five tasks, S-999's first rate

was also not a good predictor. The data for S-314 are simi-

larly more sparse than those shown for S-157, and S-314's

rates are lower.


In general, these data conformed to the data gener-

ated by the other subjects. First session measurement of

rates of behavior was not seen to yield a reliable baseline.

1000 .....




13 July 13 July 13 July 13 July

Signature Alphabet Picture essays Essay

Figure 15. Charts of character emission rates for S-001 on tasks listed. Successive
calendar days are indicated for each panel.

..... ..... ...

1000 -




.5 "

/ / r

r -

* .-

6 July


Figure 16.

6 July


- .~

Charts of character emission rates for S-517 on tasks listed. Suc-
cessive calendar days are indicated for each panel.

6 July

Uses for

6 July


6 July


6 July



* *


20 July


Charts of character emission rates for S-202 on tasks listed. .Suc-
cessive calendar days are indicated for each panel, except the last
one, in which three performances were emitted in the same day.

written on



20 July


Figure 17.


20 July


20 July






13 July


. **

".... t i i ... I '"
13 July 13 July

Picture essay Uses for

13 July

FA Essay

Figure 18. Charts of character emission rates for S-999 on tasks listed. Successive
calendar days are indicated.

13 July





20 July

17 July

29 July 31 July 12 Aug

13 July 27 July

Picture essays FA Letters to friends
Successive calendar days Successive experimental tasks

Figure 19. A. Character (-) and word (K) emission rates
on indicated tasks by S-314 using computer.

500 +

500 -




12 Sept

Successive tasks

B. Correct (*) and in-
correct (X) character
emission rates for S-
922 on successive trials.


5 -




Experiments 1-5 dealt with the frequency of emission

of character and words to the relative exclusion of inves-

tigation of the topography of the responses. Experiment 6

was designed to demonstrate control of the topography of

characters emitted by the consequences of emission of

selected characters.


Subject and Apparatus

A subject who had participated in an earlier phase

of the investigation (S-922) was asked to serve again. One

experimental session was held under conditions approximating

those of Exp. 2, except that a yellow lined 8 1/2 x 11"

legal tablet was used to record the responses, and timing

was done by reference to a Westclox electric clock.


The subject was instructed to write characters "to

guess a simple word,"and the E would respond "no" after in-

correct characters and "yes" after correct ones, and circle

the correct ones. The same word, "CARDBOARD," was used

for both trials.

Topography Measurement

The "correct" topography was defined as the next

letter in the stimulus word, while an "incorrect"topography

was defined as any other character. Hence, a direct measure

of topography was possible by simply counting the correct

and incorrect letters.

Preliminary Sessions

One preliminary session was held with S-922, in

which the phrase "white dogs are quieter" was selected. The

following difficulties were found: after the first two

words, S-922 adopted the same procedure (writing the alpha-

bet) as a system for locating the correct response, and she

announced a desire to stop the session as the task was bor-

ing. Hence, CARDBOARD was chosen for the next task, as the

first letters appear early in the alphabet, as does the B

in the last part of the word. The "B" was important be-

cause few cues exist to signal the next letter after the

first syllable.

Experimental Error

After the first trial, the S pointed out that "CARD-

BOARD" was a compound word, not a simple one. The instructions

were amended for the second trial by the substitution of

"easy" for "simple," and the S was encouraged to try again.


Figure 19 part B displays the correct and incorrect

character emission rates for trials 1 and 2. Note the con-

trol of the topography of the response by the consequation,

as the incorrect characters decelerate and the correct char-

acters accelerate. The change in topography of the response

went from 9 of 47 responses correct to 9 of 23, and the rates

show an even more dramatic effect, from 2.0 per minute cor-

rect and 8 per minute incorrect to 3.18 per minute and only

4.87 per minute incorrect.


The change in topography of response under the experi-

mental conditions supports the notion that the consequences

of emission of a given character (and hence a given word)

control the topography of emission as well as the frequency.


Since issues are raised that fall in several diverse

categories, the discussion is arranged topically.

Unit of Response

The findings with respect to the unit of measure-

ment appropriate to compositional behavior may seem unclear.

On a FA task in Exp. 1, S-803 demonstrated a clear rise in

word emission rates while simultaneously lowering her char-

acter emission rates by shortening her average word length.

However, S-157, when writing texts, showed a general parallel

movement of word and character frequencies, as did S-314.

More research is needed to clarify the differences

between these two rates, but one possible explanation for

the lack of separation with S-157 may be the textual con-

straints imposed by the requirements of the essay task. In

Exp. 1, S-803 was under no contingency to produce words

with any specific denotation, but S-157 was required to emit

connected discourse, which may have prevented her from short-

ening her words as drastically as did S-803. Thus, until

more research is undertaken, it would seem most prudent to

record both frequencies, but, in situations in which lack

of resources makes that difficult, word frequencies may

be easiest to measure and explore.

Machine Writing

The ease of measurement of character and word

emission rates with the aid of the high speed computer in-

creases experimental efficiency tremendously. A simpler

way of obtaining similar measures may be to instruct sub-

jects to type on a standard electric (or manual) typewriter

and to type all the way to a specified right margin and no

further before operating the carriage return, thus typing

lines of a specific fixed length. An external timer and

a count of the words or blanks in each line would provide

the basis for word rates, and subtracting the number of

blanks from the line length would give the information for

the character rate. Thus, the advantages of mechanical

recording may be available without the expenses and incon-

venience associated with computer use.

Environmental Control

Writing, like other behaviors, has two basic char-

acteristics: some frequency of occurrence in time and some

topography or form. Several examples of control of fre-

quency of character and word rates have been prescribed.

An announcement of a contingency was sufficient to dramatically

move S-922's character emission rates in all measured be-

haviors. In general, announcement of the task controlled

differing rates for most subjects. A more subtle example

is shown in the data from S-803 (Figure 4): the part of

speech (adjective or verb) to be generated to match one of

the two lists of nouns had a dramatic effect on the fre-

quency, and indeed the noun lists themselves also differ-

entially controlled the rates.

Generally, control of the topography of the response

was done simply by announcement. No subject made an ex-

tended topographically inappropriate response; all produced

written materials that met the specification of the experi-

mental situation. For example, no subject responded with

an alphabet to the signature task, or vice versa. Overall,

specification of the acceptable response was sufficient to

produce that response, and a change in specification pro-

duced an immediate change in topography of response.

An effect of the topography on the response rate

may be seen in the alphabet rates of S-016. One topography

(all capital letters) was emitted at a response rate dif-

ferent from the other (small letter) rate. Another example

may be seen in the data for S-803 cited above. Finally,

Exp. 6 unequivocally demonstrated control over the topography

of a written response by the consequences of that response.


Perhaps the greatest value of the present work

lays in its relationship to instruction in written compo-

sition. The orderliness seen in rates of character and

word emission under experimental conditions justify the

diversion of scarce classroom time and resources to pro-

grams of daily measurement of word emission rates during

composition classes by teachers and experimental psychol-


Zoellner (1969) requested a measurement system for

classroom use that would allow teachers to display incre-

ments of improvement in writing. The present work pro-

vides a basis for attack of the problem of measuring im-

provement. Since writing frequencies seem to be stable,

changes in the quality of a student's writing may be shown

by marking all of the words in a composition that are in-

appropriate, and plotting the rates of appropriate and

inappropriate words written per minute by the students.

Clearly, any improvement will show up as a relative drop

in the frequency of incorrect words emitted or a rise in

the frequency correct. Specific types of errors may be

handled in a similar fashion. One type of choppiness,

for example, may be seen as a frequency of emission of

terminal marks (.?!) that is too high relative to the

frequency of words emitted. After initial measurement, any

change in sentence length must show up as a change in the

frequency of terminal marks relative to word frequency.

Hence, one may assess the effect-of an announcement or

instruction on choppiness by examining the frequency of

terminal marks relative to the word frequency. Thus, pre-

cise measurement of the change in student performance due

to instruction is possible, and with such measurement the

efficiency and effectiveness of different instructional

strategies may be assessed. Accountability in terms of

cost for a given unit of student improvement is also


Specific pedagogical tactics remain to be explored,

but some implications may be drawn from the present study.

First, the results seen with S-016 suggest that self-timing

by students may be a useful tactic for increasing the time

spent writing. Secondly, the data with respect to measure-

ment of word versus character emission frequencies equivo-

cally suggest that word emission rates may be sufficiently

stable, but further investigation of this point seems in-

dicated. Thirdly, both the frequencyof emission and the

topography of the characters emitted can be controlled by

manipulation of the environment, so that teachers can arrange

conditions under which students will write well. Thus, the

extension of the findings of the experimental analysis of

behavior to written composition as aids to teachers and

students may be slightly closer.


Brigham, T. H., Graubard, P. S. and Stans, A. Analysis of
the effects of sequential reinforcement contingencies.
Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1972, 5, 421-

Findley, J. D. An experimental outline for building and
exploring multi-operant behavior repertoires.
Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior,
1962, 5, 113-166.

Gonzalez, F. A. and Waller, M. B. Handwriting as an operant,
Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior,
1974, 21, 165-175.

Maloney, K. D. and Hopkins, B. L. The modification of sentence
structure and its relationship to subjective judgments
of creativity in writing. Journal of Applied Behavior
Analysis, 1973, 5, 425-433.

Sidman, Murray. Tactics of Scientific Research. New York,
Basic Books, Inc., 1960.

Van Houten, R., Morrison, E., Jarvis, R. and McDonald, M.
The effects of explicit timing and feedback on
compositional response rate in elementary school
children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,
1974, 7, 547-555.

Zoellner, R. A behavioral approach to writing. College
English, Jan. 1969, 30, No. 4.


Charles T. Merbitz was born on March 30, 1946, in

Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from a private high school

in Chicago in 1964.

In 1970, he married Gloria Golec and also received

a B. S. from the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle.

In 1971, after a year of work in business, Mr.

Merbitz began graduate studies at the University of Florida

in Gainesville. He received his M. A. in Psychology in

1973. While at the University of Florida, Mr. Merbitz was

employed as a research assistant in an animal operant behav-

ior lab; served as Academic Advisor in University College to

Minority Students (EEOP/SSS program): was Tutorial Coordin-

ator for the Personalized Learning Center and taught in the

Department of Behavioral Studies.

Mr. Merbitz presently resides in Lake Wales, Florida,

with his wife, and is employed as a school psychologist by

the Winter Haven Hospital.

I certify that I have read this study and that in
my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Do pr of Philosophy.

i y. ennyp cker, Chairman
Professor of Psychology

I certify that I have read this study and that in
my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor o Ph osophy.

M .K. Goldstein
Asst. Professor f Psychology

I certify that I have read this study and that in
my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor f Philosophy.

M. Ps. yeyer co
Professor, Psychology

I certify that I have read this study and that in
my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

J. M. Newell 1
professor of Education

I certify that I have read this study and that in
my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

F. S. Sieka, Ph. D.

This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of
the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and
Sciences and to the Graduate Council, and was accepted as
partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.

December, 1975

"4A De Graduate School

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