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Is Conditioned Reinforcement by Observation a Verbal Behavior Developmental Cusp?

Lanter, Alexandria

In 2 studies, I tested the effects of an observational conditioning-by-denial intervention on the demonstration of conditioned reinforcement by observation, observational performance, and observational acquisition of new operants. In Experiment 1, I selected 6 children educationally classified with autism spectrum disorder and multiple disabilities. The participants were 2 females and 4 males who ranged from 5.5-8.2 years old. Participants were selected from one school that implemented a Comprehensive Application of Behavior Analysis to Schooling (CABAS®) approach. I conducted a series of pre-intervention reinforcer assessments that tested 1) the conditioned reinforcement effects of known reinforcing stimuli (edibles) and non-preferred stimuli (binder clips) on a mastered task, and 2) the reinforcement effects of non-preferred stimuli (binder clips) on 3 learning tasks across each participant. These reinforcer assessment probes showed all participants’ rates increased when a known reinforcer (edibles) was delivered compared to non-reinforcing stimuli (binder clips) on the mastered task. Participants did not demonstrate learning when delivered non-preferred stimuli (binder clips) for correct responses on learning tasks. Following the pre-intervention reinforcer assessments I conducted probes for a) conditioned reinforcement by observation b) observational performance and c) observational acquisition of new operants. Pre-intervention probes showed all participants did not demonstrate conditioned reinforcement by observation, or observational acquisition of new operants and 5 out of 6 participants did not demonstrate observational performance. The independent variable was an observational conditioning-by-denial intervention. During the intervention the participant was paired with a known peer, and both children were separated by a partition but were able to see and hear the researcher but not each other. The only thing both the participant and peer could see were each other’s transparent cups, which were attached with Velcro® to each child’s desk. Both participants were given a mastered task. Each time the peer emitted a response the experimenter delivered neutral stimuli (binder clips) into his/her transparent cup, in view of the participant. The intervention continued until the target participant vocally manded/requested for the neutral stimuli and/or made a physical attempt to gain access to the stimuli one or more times across two consecutive sessions. Post-intervention data suggest that neutral stimuli (binder clips) became conditioned reinforcers for mastered and learning tasks as function of the intervention for all 6 participants. Responses to denial of non-preferred stimuli delivered to a peer (conditioned reinforcement by observation), observational performance, and observational acquisition of new operant responses increased in 4 out of 6 participants who did not respond during pre-intervention probes. In Experiment 2, I sought to determine if conditioned reinforcement by observation is a verbal behavior developmental cusp. Experiment 2 was a replication of Experiment 1, with two different reinforcer assessments that tested: 1) the conditioned reinforcer effects of neutral stimuli when the participant was alone and 2) the conditioned reinforcer effects of neutral stimuli when the participant observed a peer play with neutral stimuli. Four males educationally classified with autism spectrum disorder and speech and language impairments participated in Experiment 2. Post-intervention data suggest that neutral stimuli (metal washers, s-hooks, spoon shelf supports) became conditioned reinforcers during the individual and peer reinforcer assessments as a function of the intervention for all 4 participants. Responses to denial of non-preferred stimuli delivered to a peer (conditioned reinforcement by observation), observational performance, and observational acquisition of new operant responses increased across all 4 participants who did not respond during pre-intervention probes. The results of both experiments suggest that a single intervention can establish all three types of observational learning. The results from Experiment 2 confirm that conditioned reinforcement by observation is a verbal behavior developmental cusp.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Behavior Analysis
Thesis Advisors
Singer-Dudek, Jessica
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 16, 2018
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