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Theses Doctoral

Experimental and Descriptive Analyses of Mastery Criteria

Wong, Kristina

An acquisition criterion, more commonly known as “mastery criterion” is an instructor-established standard of performance that may signal the acquisition of a novel skill or the conclusion of a phase of intervention. When teaching new behaviors, researchers and practitioners in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) apply some type of criterion for the learner to achieve. The purpose of the following studies was to evaluate the effects of acquisition criteria on skill acquisition in addition to other components of mastery such as response maintenance and stimulus generalization. In Experiment I (Wong et al., 2021), I conducted a systematic comparison of two applications of acquisition criteria. I selected four participants to teach 40 novel sight words using learn unit instruction.

The participants were between the ages of 5 and 7 years old and diagnosed with developmental disabilities. I equated the target operants and quasi-randomly assigned 20 sight words in one acquisition criterion condition and 20 sight words in another acquisition criterion condition. In one condition, Set Analysis (SA), the acquisition criterion was applied to a set of four operants. The other condition, Operant Analysis (OA), applied acquisition criterion to individual operants. The level of accuracy and the replication of the accuracy remained the same across conditions, and more specifically, a 100% accuracy across one replication session was utilized under OA and SA. The results of skill acquisition showed that all four participants learned a greater number of sight words under the OA condition compared to the SA condition within the same time frame. Response maintenance results suggested that SA produced more durable responses for three out of four participants.

In Experiment II, I extended the findings of Experiment I by addressing some limitations and systematically replicating the procedures. I increased the number of replications of the acquisition criterion from 1 replication to two replications. I selected four new participants and taught them sight words under the OA application of acquisition criterion and the SA application of acquisition criterion. Similar to the findings of Experiment 1, the skill acquisition results showed all participants learned a greater number of operants under OA compared to SA. The response maintenance results showed that all four participants responded with 100% accuracy to a similar or higher percentage of operants under the OA condition compared to the SA condition, suggesting that the added replication to the acquisition criterion may have improved the durability of responses during four-week follow-up sessions.

The findings of both Experiment I and Experiment II contributed to the small but growing body of literature demonstrating the parametric effects of acquisition criteria. However, small sample sizes in the existing acquisition criteria research limit the external validity of the findings. Thus, I conducted a descriptive analysis of every skill acquisition article published in 2017 to 2019 in three peer-reviewed behavioral journals, in order to address this limitation. I reported the general characteristics of over 200 articles targeting skill acquisition. Additionally, our analysis targeted the effects of acquisition-criterion levels and frequency of replications on response maintenance results and generalization results. Ultimately, the results provide evidence that acquisition criteria play an important role in the mastery of novel behaviors, which have practical implications for ABA clinicians and researchers.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Behavior Analysis
Thesis Advisors
Fienup, Daniel
Greer, Douglas R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 19, 2021