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.


49th Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2023

Event Details

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Symposium #89
CE Offered: BACB
Applied Research on Early Childhood Development
Saturday, May 27, 2023
4:00 PM–5:50 PM
Hyatt Regency, Capitol Ballroom 1-3
Area: DEV/DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Ciobha A. McKeown (University of Florida)
Discussant: Martha Pelaez (Florida International University)
CE Instructor: Martha Pelaez, Ph.D.

This symposium features four fantastic presentations extending behavior analytic methodology to infants and toddlers. First, Dr. Carolynn Kohn will present research surrounding the common assertion that infants have unlearned preferences for prosociality, and results suggest that few infants reliably made choices. Dr. Kohn will emphasize the value of single-case designs and repeated measures. Second, Carley Smith will present on extending behavior analytic preference assessment methodology to infants as young as six-months-old. Carley’s presentation will highlight what behaviors best indicate preference. Dr. Hayley Neimy will present on the efficacy of different operant social reinforcement procedures to promote vocalizations in neurodiverse infants in single- and dual-language households, and results highlight the importance of teaching caregivers to provide contingent reinforcement to improve early social communication skills in their children. Fourth, Dr. Katerina Monlux will present on teaching parents, in-person and through telehealth, strategies to establish joint attention and social referencing skills in neurodiverse toddlers. The results replicate the efficacy of an operant learning paradigm when teaching these skills. We are excited and honored to have Dr. Martha Pelaez as our discussant given her expertise and passion for this area of research.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): development, infant, preference, social communication
Target Audience:

Understanding of the application of behavior analysis in developmental psychology; elicited behavior compared to operant behavior.

Learning Objectives: (1) Describe the benefit of behavior analysis to other disciplines; describe how behavior analytic methodology can be applied to child development; (3) be able to list methods that can promote early social communication skills.
Do Infants Make Moral Judgments? Investigating Other Probable Explanations
CAROLYNN S. KOHN (University of the Pacific), Samantha Crooks (University of the Pacific), Matthew P. Normand (University of the Pacific), Henry D. Schlinger (California State University, LA)
Abstract: Highly cited research on infant moral development (e.g., Hamlin, Wynn, & Bloom, 2007) suggests infants have an unlearned preference for prosocial others. However, these studies use a single measure of the dependent variable (puppet choice), which does not evaluate choice stability. Replications using single-case designs (SCDs) with repeated measures exist, and largely fail to replicate the original research; however, a limitation of repeated measures after one puppet show is that infants may display side perseveration (choosing a puppet on the same side). We used a virtual format (due to COVID-19 restrictions) to address these limitations. Infants (N = 6) watched a puppet show before making each choice and this sequence was repeated a total of four times. No clear patterns in infant choices emerged, and some infants made no choices. Results suggest a virtual format may not be suitable to evaluate infants’ choices. Findings from previous failed replications suggest infants may not display preferences for similar others and our current findings support previous recommendations to (1) publish null findings, (2) use SCDs with repeated measures to establish choice stability (reliability), and (3) assess infants’ choices by experimentally examining the conditions under which infants make specific puppet choices.

Determining Preference in At-Risk Infants

CARLEY SMITH (University of Florida), Ciobha A. McKeown (University of Florida), Caitlin Cantrell (University of Florida), Timothy R. Vollmer (University of Florida), Kerri P. Peters (University of Florida)

Identification of reinforcers is an essential component when teaching new skills to individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. Commonly, a preference assessment is used to identify potent reinforcers. However, it is unknown if common methodology used to identify preferences for children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities also can be used for children under two years old. The purpose of this study was to evaluate efficacious methods to determine preference in infants as young as six-months-old. In addition to evaluating the efficacy of commonly used preference assessment methods (e.g., free operant versus paired stimulus preference assessments), we also evaluated if behaviors, other than a reach response, could reliably predict preference. We discuss the implications of our findings on expanding behavior analytic interventions to a younger population. In addition, we will provide recommendations on how to respond when infants do not have the prerequisite skills to participate in standardized preference assessments.

Talk to Me Baby! Promoting Vocalizations and Echoics in Neurodiverse Infants
HAYLEY MAY NEIMY (SHABANI INSTITUTE & CAPILANO UNIVERSITY), Martha Pelaez (Florida International University), Jonathan J. Tarbox (University of Southern California; FirstSteps for Kids), Mary Jane Weiss (Endicott College), Rebecca Pelaez (Florida International University), Elisa Lage (Florida International University)
Abstract: We compare the use of different operant social reinforcement procedures to promote vocalizations in a series of studies with neurodiverse infants in both single and dual-speaking households. The results reliably confirmed findings from previous research that contingent reinforcement procedures are more effective than non-contingent reinforcement and elicitation procedures, including the use of “motherese”/”parentese” and vocal imitation (Pelaez, Virues, & Gewirtz, 2011a and 2011b; Pelaez, Borroto, & Carrow, 2018; Neimy et al., 2020). Implications of these studies highlight the important role of systematically and contingently arranging the social consequences delivered by caregivers to promote early communication repertoires, and how idiosyncratic preferences of the infant are identified during the course of interventions. Future research and application are discussed in the context of prevention, optimal infant-caregiver environmental arrangements, misplaced contingencies, and the establishment of caregivers as social reinforcers.
Training Parents to Establish Joint Attention and Social Referencing Repertoires in Neurodiverse Toddlers via Operant Learning Procedures
KATERINA MONLUX (University of Washington), Martha Pelaez (Florida International University)
Abstract: Deficits in social engagement are among the core diagnostic criteria observed among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In particular, joint attention and social referencing skills are critical for developing more complex social interactions and occur at a lower rate in those with an ASD diagnosis. The use of behavioral techniques and brief parent-infant engagement training has successfully promoted these social skills. We present data showing the acquisition of joint attention and social referencing skills in the natural environment in person and over telehealth using caregivers as therapists. The current presentation reviews and extends previously published procedures for training joint attention and social referencing modeled after Pelaez and colleagues’ (2012) operant learning paradigm with data from neurodiverse toddlers. We propose a model for expanding previous findings to the natural environment with a population at a higher likelihood of developing ASD and Fragile X syndrome. We teach joint attention skills first to aid in acquiring social referencing. While very similar social behavior chains, joint attention and social referencing have functional differences, which we will discuss.



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