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Theses Doctoral

The Role of Joint Attention in the Verbal Behavior Development Trajectory

Harms, Ginger

Three experiments are presented in which I sought to determine the relation between joint attention and the related verbal behavior developmental cusps. Participants in Experiment I were 37 preschool students with and without disabilities with verbal behavior levels ranging from prefoundational to bidirectional cusps. Participants were selected from a convenience sample within a preschool for children with and without disabilities. Measures included the participants’ responses to opportunities for mand joint attention (MJA), responding to joint attention (RJA), initiation of joint attention (IJA), conditioned reinforcement for adult faces (CRF), conditioned reinforcement for adult voices (CRV), generalized matching, generalized imitation (GI), listener literacy (LL), mands, tacts, praise and a conditioned reinforcer, say-do correspondence, self-talk during fantasy play, conversational units (CUs) unidirectional Naming (UniN), bidirectional Naming (BiN), and observational learning (OL) as a listener and speaker. Pearson’s correlations and independent samples t-tests were conducted to determine which cusps were related to joint attention. Furthermore, stepwise multiple regression analyses were utilized to determine the largest significant predictors of joint attention. The results showed strong associations between many of the verbal behavior cusps and joint attention, specifically with conditioned reinforcement for adult faces explaining 27% of the variance in participants’ RJA, and conditioned reinforcement for adult faces combined with a tact repertoire explaining 64% of the variance in participants’ IJA. Experiment II thus investigated the effects of conditioned reinforcement for adult faces on joint attention. Six participants lacking conditioned reinforcement for adult faces and correct RJA began the face conditioning protocol using a delayed multiple probe design. Though no participants successfully completed the face conditioning protocol, subsequent mastery of short-term objectives did not result in an increase in RJA or IJA for any participants. Experiment III was conducted with an additional six participants who had conditioned reinforcement for adult faces, but lacked an independent tact repertoire and IJA. Participants completed 5 phases of an intensive tact intervention (ITI), totaling 125 mastered tacts, using a delayed multiple probe design. Following the intervention, 5 out of 6 participants showed increases in IJA, as well as three-point RJA, demonstrating that conditioning social consequences through ITI may be an effective intervention for increasing joint attention in individuals with the necessary prerequisites. The findings suggest that joint attention is not a cusp, but rather a behavior that emerges as the result of the acquisition of numerous conditioned reinforcers. I propose a separation of joint attention into 4 distinct categories (MJA, two-point RJA, three-point RJA, and IJA) based on a behavioral analysis of social consequences.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Behavior Analysis
Thesis Advisors
Greer, R. Douglas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 5, 2020