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.


44th Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2018

Event Details

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Symposium #427
Procedures for Conditioning Stimuli as Automatic Reinforcers
Monday, May 28, 2018
10:00 AM–10:50 AM
Manchester Grand Hyatt, Harbor Ballroom AB
Area: DDA/VRB; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Alec Bernstein (University of Kansas)

When reinforcement occurs independent of the mediation of others, it is referred to as automatic reinforcement (Skinner, 1969). The response product that automatically reinforces the behavior may be in the form of an unconditioned reinforcer, or it may be conditioned. That is, it is possible for a once neutral stimulus to be paired with other reinforcers until the neutral stimulus itself becomes a conditioned reinforcer. Understanding factors that influence the process of conditioning automatic reinforcers is critical for acquisition, maintenance, and generalization of successful behavior changes. Researchers have utilized conditioning procedures to establish neutral stimuli as conditioned reinforcers for decades (e.g., Greer, Pistoljevic, Cahill, & Du, 2011). This symposium consists of three presentations describing applied evaluations of several procedures for conditioning stimuli as automatic reinforcers for behaviors of social significance (e.g., physical activity in sedentary adults, vocal behavior by young children).

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): automatic reinforcement, behavior acquisition, conditioned reinforcement
A Comparison of Conditioning Procedures for Establishing Vocalizations as Conditioned Automatic Reinforcers
KELLEY L. HARRISON (University of Kansas), Ashley Romero (University of Kansas), Marcella Hangen (University of Kansas), Pamela L. Neidert (The University of Kansas)
Abstract: Researchers have utilized conditioning procedures to establish neutral stimuli as conditioned reinforcers for decades (e.g., Greer, Pistoljevic, Cahill, & Du, 2011; Lovaas et al., 1966; Dorow, 1980). More recently, researchers have used conditioning procedures as a strategy for facilitating language acquisition (e.g., Sundberg, Michael, Partington, & Sundberg, 1996). Interventions to increase communication can be difficult if individuals do not reliably echo the speech of others and do not exhibit a variety of vocal sounds to be shaped (Petursdottir & Lepper, 2015). Three procedures have been suggested for conditioning vocalizations as automatic reinforcers: stimulus-stimulus pairing (e.g., Sundberg, Michael, Partington, & Sundberg, 1996), operant-discrimination training (e.g., Lepper, Petursdottir, & Esch, 2013), and response-stimulus pairing (e.g., Petursdottir & Lepper, 2015). However, the effectiveness of these procedures is unclear. The purpose of the current study is to compare the effects of these three procedures on the establishment of novel vocalizations in individuals with a minimal vocal repertoire. To date, five children with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities have participated. Preliminary results suggest response-stimulus pairing may be effective for establishing vocalizations for one of the five participants. This research extends behavior-analytic literature by comparing three different procedures for conditioning vocalizations as automatic reinforcers.

Increasing Preference for Physical Activity Among Sedentary Adults Using a Pairing Procedure

SARAH A. KRCHNAVEK HARRISON (Rowan University), Bethany R. Raiff (Rowan University), Maureen B Kelly (Rowan University)

Fifty-two percent of adults do not meet the Physical Activity Guidelines and inactivity is associated with serious health concerns. �This study aimed to (a) investigate the relationship between self-reports of preferences for physical activity and actual preferences using a Multiple Stimulus Without Replacement (MSWO) preference assessment, and (b) assess whether physical activity can be conditioned as a reinforcer using a pairing procedures for sedentary adults. Eight participants completed a MSWO preference assessment at the beginning of the study to determine a preference hierarchy, including 5 leisure-time and 1 physical, activities. The four sedentary participants then completed a multiple-baseline design during which they attended weekly 30-min sessions where they paired their most highly preferred leisure-time activity with walking on a treadmill. A second MSWO was conducted after pairing to determine changes in physical activity rank on the hierarchy. Self-reports were highly correlated with actual preferences for all eight participants. The pairing procedure increased preference and enjoyment for physical activity in the sedentary participants. These results suggest that a pairing procedure can be used to increase preference and enjoyment from physical activity among sedentary adults; however, more research is needed to determine how to translate this in to behavior outside the laboratory.


Examining Stimulus-Stimulus Pairing Procedures: From SSP to Direct Reinforcement

MICHAEL HEIBERGER (Western New England University), Rachel Schweon (New England Center for Children; Simmons College), William H. Ahearn (New England Center for Children)

The current study examined the use of a stimulus-stimulus pairing (SSP) procedure in an attempt to condition vocalizations as automatic reinforcers for increasing vocalizations and establishing echoic responses. Two auditory stimulus presentation styles of the SSP procedure, which differed in the rate of pairings, were compared with two students with autism. Following an initial SSP phase, direct reinforcement of phoneme emissions was introduced. Data were collected on the frequency of target and non-target vocalizations for both participants. A parallel-treatments design was implemented to compare the variations of SSP across phoneme sets within and across participants. Results suggested the variation of SSP with 3 presentations per minute of the auditory stimulus was more effective in increasing target vocalizations than the variation with 12 presentations per minute of the auditory stimulus when followed by direct reinforcement of vocal imitation. Probes showed echoics were established for all phonemes in the 3 presentations condition. A mand-model procedure was implemented in an attempt to increase vocalizations for phonemes not established as echoic behavior. Interobserver agreement data were collected for a minimum of 33% of each condition, mean IOA was always above 90%.




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