Theses Doctoral

Actions and Names: Observing Responses and the Role of Multiple Stimulus Control in Incidental Language Acquisition

Cahill, Claire

The present research focuses on the possible relation between observing responses and language acquisition. In the first of three experiments, preschool aged participants with and without disabilities were presented with the opportunity to observe multiple aspects of a stimulus. A Naming experience was created in which the stimulus was presented with visual and auditory characteristics, such that the participant heard the name of an object while observing an action demonstrated with the object. The dependent variables measured which of those aspects selected out the participant's observing responses. The participants consistently acquired the actions associated with the objects, but produced fewer names as a speaker. The second experiment used alternating treatments with single case design to analyze the responses to stimuli presented with and without actions. Unconsequated probe trials of the dependent variables measured whether the participant acquired listener and speaker responses for the name of a stimulus, and whether the presence of an action improved or hindered acquisition of those responses to the stimulus. In the experimental action condition, participants acquired fewer speaker and listener responses to the stimuli. The results indicated that the visual-motor (action) aspects of the stimuli selected out the participants observing responses over the auditory (name) aspects of the stimulus. Consequently, the presence of an action hindered rather than facilitated incidental acquisition of names, suggesting the dominance of visual stimuli over auditory stimuli. In the third experiment, participants were selected who acquired listener responses to the stimuli in the experimental action condition, but did not readily acquire the speaker responses. The participants were presented with multiple exemplar instruction (MEI), which provided rotated opportunities to receive reinforcement for responding to the stimuli with action imitation, listener responses, and speaker responses to the stimuli. Following mastery of the MEI intervention, participants acquired both speaker and listener responses to novel sets of stimuli in the experimental action condition. The results suggest that rotated opportunities to emit multiple responses to a single stimulus in the presence of reinforcement can result in a shift of stimulus control such that new observing responses emerge that were not present before. The results are discussed in terms of conditioned reinforcement, observing responses, and incidental language acquisition. Evaluated as a whole, the findings from these experiments indicate that when an individual is provided with a specific instructional history, he or she can acquire additional responses to a stimulus, beyond the speaker and listener, as a result of the Naming experience.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Behavior Analysis
Thesis Advisors
Greer, R. Douglas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 30, 2013