Theses Doctoral

The Effects of Social Conditions on Learning New Reinforcers

Katz, Emily

In two experiments, I arranged the environment to determine if a relation existed between the social setting, which was defined by the presence of a peer or multiple peers and measured by the participants’ verbal behavior, and the learning of new reinforcers for the participants and the confederate peers. The peers were used to establish an intervention setting that fostered interaction between individuals but did not require it. In both experiments, two pre- and post- intervention tests of the dependent variables were used to measure the learning of new reinforcers. In Experiment 1, two intervention conditions were counterbalanced across participants to identify if a neutral stimulus would attain reinforcing value by observation if it was simultaneously delivered to both participant and peer for responding to previously learned math equations (Condition 1) or if the conditioning phenomenon was only observed when the neutral item was delivered to the peer (while the participant was present but denied access to the stimulus) for responding to previously learned math equations (Condition 2). Participant behavior was measured for all variables across all phases of the experiment and peer behavior was measured during the pre- and post-intervention screening test. The results from Experiment 1 showed that the participants did not learn new reinforcers when the neutral stimulus (NS) was delivered simultaneously to both participant and peer as they completed math worksheets. However, the previously neutral stimulus did become a reinforcer when the participant did not receive the NS but observed the peer receive the NS as they completed the math worksheets. Peer behavior was also measured during the pre- and post-intervention screening test and was consistent with the participants’ results; peers acquired new reinforcers during Condition 2 but not Condition 1, even though they were never denied access to the stimulus. In Experiment 2, I tested whether reinforcers would be conditioned through observation regardless of the role that the participant was assigned during the intervention. Pre- and post-intervention tests for the dependent variables measured the behaviors of all nine participants regardless of the participant’s intervention role (e.g. peer, recipient). In Experiment 2, participants were randomly put in groups of three that included two participants (peers) who observed the third participant (recipient) receive the NS as a reinforcement operation as all three were completing math worksheets. The setting was arranged in this manner to test the effect of the reinforcement operation when two peers observed one recipient receive the stimulus. The results are discussed as an analysis of social contingencies, reinforcement operations including deprivation and other implications that can be drawn from the changes in the participants’ and confederates’ behavior during the pre-and post-intervention measures.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Behavior Analysis
Thesis Advisors
Greer, R. Douglas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 23, 2017