Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


45th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2019

Event Details

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Symposium #101
CE Offered: BACB
Responding to the Emotions of Others: Theory, Research, and Practice in Autism Treatment
Saturday, May 25, 2019
3:00 PM–4:50 PM
Hyatt Regency West, Ballroom Level, Regency Ballroom B
Area: AUT; Domain: Theory
Chair: Jaime DeQuinzio (Alpine Learning Group)
Discussant: Martha Pelaez (Florida International University)
CE Instructor: Jaime DeQuinzio, Ph.D.

The purpose of this symposium is to present theory and research focused on improving the responding of individuals with autism to the emotions of others. To engage in social referencing, empathy, and helping individuals must be able to respond to the verbal and non-verbal emotional displays of others as discriminative stimuli. Individuals with autism display challenges orienting toward and responding to these social stimuli and behavior analytic instruction can be been used to alleviate these deficits. This symposium will begin with a discussion of social referencing from a behavior-analytic framework. The second paper presents a demonstration of the effects of discrimination training on the differential responding to joyful and fearful expressions within social referencing. The third paper will focus on the effects of a teaching package to train empathetic responses by adolescents with autism using socially mediated reinforcers. The fourth paper will present a comparison of group and individual instruction to teach empathy and helping.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): emotions, empathy, helping, social referencing
Target Audience:


Learning Objectives: 1. Attendees will learn a behavioral conceptualization of social referencing 2. Attendees will be able to conceptualize emotions as discriminative stimuli 2. Attendees will learn single case experimental designs for evaluating treatments focused on improving social referencing, empathy, and helping in children with autism 3. Attendees will learn effective procedures for improving social referencing, empathy, and helping
Social Referencing and Joint Attention: Toward a Conceptual Analysis and a Functional Distinction
PAMELA NICHOLE PETERSON (New England Center for Children), Rebecca P. F. MacDonald (New England Center for Children)
Abstract: Social referencing is a social response that has been largely discussed in the developmental literature. Behaviorally-defined as a discriminated operant consisting of a chain of responses following the presentation of a novel or ambiguous stimulus, social referencing is lacking in children with autism. Due to the failure of children with autism to demonstrate social referencing, behavior analysts have begun to consider the conditions most suitable to teaching this chain of responses. Effective design of behavior-analytic teaching procedures necessitates a thorough understanding of the relevant behavioral processes and contingencies that maintain social referencing. A behavioral conceptualization of social referencing will be expanded upon and the role of discriminative stimuli and establishing operations in the facilitation of the response chain in typically-developing children will be discussed. Additionally, a functional distinction between social referencing and joint attention, a topographically similar response often considered to be maintained by the same contingencies, will be posited.

Teaching Children With Autism to Respond to Joyful and Fearful Expressions Within Social Referencing

JAIME DEQUINZIO (Alpine Learning Group), Stephanie Ruch (Alpine Learning Group), Jaime Stine (Alpine Learning Group), Bridget A. Taylor (Alpine Learning Group)

During social referencing, infants as young as 6 months of age look to others when confronted with unfamiliar or unexpected events in the environment as a means of determining how to respond to such events. Typically, approach or avoidance responses are learned by responding to positive and negative affective cues of the parent or caregiver (e.g., smiling and frowning). Unfortunately, social referencing repertoires are limited, delayed, or completely lacking in children with autism. Despite these documented social deficits, to date there has been only one published study that has focused on ameliorating social referencing deficits in children with autism. In this study we used a multiple baseline design across three participants to determine the effects of discrimination training, verbal instructions, and manual guidance on the differential responding of children with autism to fearful and joyful expressions. All three participants learned to discriminate the expressions presented within the context of social referencing but generalization to others was limited. A discussion of social referencing and future directions for research will be presented.


Using a Three Component Generalization Strategy to Teach Empathy to Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder

VICTORIA BARBUTO (Caldwell University), Sharon A. Reeve (Caldwell University), Kenneth F. Reeve (Caldwell University), Danielle L. Gureghian (Garden Academy), Alexandra O'Grady (Caldwell University)

Previous research has demonstrated that children and adolescents who show empathy and towards others are likely to increase their opportunities for future interactions with peers and family members. This study extended the work of Garcia-Albea, Reeve, Reeve, Kisamore, LeBlanc, and Brothers (2015) to teach empathetic responses to four adolescent males with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A treatment package consisting of video modeling, audio and manual prompts, behavior rehearsals, and socially mediated consequences was used to teach empathy. It further programed for generalization using a three-component generalization strategy (i.e., general-case analysis, multiple-exemplar training, and experimenter-defined categories). Each empathy category was comprised of nine compound discriminative stimuli, that programmed for generalization from trained to novel compound discriminative stimuli. A multiple probe across participants design was used to assess the effectiveness of the treatment package and the degree of empathetic response acquisition across participants.The results indicated the effectiveness of the treatment package and empathetic responses maintained in the absence of the treatment package. Further, the skill generalized from trained to novel compound discriminative stimuli and from untrained to a novel empathy category.


Comparing Group and Individual Instruction to Teach Empathy and Helping Skills to Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

MELISSA ANDREACIO (Caldwell University), Sharon A. Reeve (Caldwell University), Kenneth F. Reeve (Caldwell University), Anjalee Nirgudkar (Behavior Analysts of NJ, LLC)

Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have deficits in language and social skills that make it difficult to learn to initiate and respond to others. Individual and group instruction have been used to teach different social behaviors but confounds have been noted in the research in how skills have been assessed. A two by two factorial design was used to compare group and individual instruction to determine which form of instruction was more effective to teach eight children with ASD empathy and helping skills. Four of the participants were taught empathy and helping with group instruction and the other four were taught empathy and helping with individual instruction. Video models were presented either individually or in a group, questions were posed to participants, and in-vivo assessment trials were conducted individually in separate rooms. Generalization probes were conducted using a novel empathy and helping scenario and maintenance data was collected one week, two weeks, and four weeks after the completion of the intervention. All participants learned helping and empathy skills, generalized these skills to novel situations, and maintained them, however, no differences was found between group or individual instruction.




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