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.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

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Symposium #320
CE Offered: BACB
Recent Advances in Training and Testing Relational Responding
Sunday, May 26, 2024
3:00 PM–4:50 PM
Convention Center, 100 Level, 111 AB
Area: VRB/EAB; Domain: Translational
Chair: Bradley Ray Tiefenthaler (Montana Association for Behavior Analysis)
Discussant: Matthias Raemaekers (Ghent University)
CE Instructor: Bradley Ray Tiefenthaler, M.Ed.

A capacity for arbitrarily applicable relational responding enables an individual to interact with complex and dynamic environments and has therefore attracted considerable attention from researchers and practitioners alike. The four papers in this symposium describe efforts to further develop both the basic science of relational responding and interventions designed to establish and refine repertoires of relational responding. Paper one describes randomized controlled trials examining the efficacy of a relational frame theory based applied behavior analysis intervention on learners’ overall abilities, such as intelligence, adaptive behavior skills, and autism symptom severity. Paper two details the co-emergence of verbal abilities and repertoires for relational responding in autistic learners. Paper three details the refinement of measures of various patterns of relational responding, and in doing so refines our understanding of the relationships between these patterns. Paper four presents new methods for investigating relational responding and transformations of functions. The work presented in this symposium blends basic and applied settings and involves a variety of populations. These works contribute to continuing the development of procedures for basic research and protocols designed to equip individuals with the behavioral repertoires required for effective patterns of exchange with their physical and social environments.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): intelligence, measure development, relational framing
Target Audience:

Prerequisites for this symposium include, but are not limited to, master’s level mastery of the application of behavior analysis.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) Compare traditional behavior analytic programming to comprehensive programming including relational training with autistic learners; (2) Describe the interdependent emergence of relational learning and behavior; (3) Describe the features of function transformation tasks; (4) Describe the functional (in)dependence of various patterns of relational responding.

Randomized Controlled Trials Comparing Content of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Treatment Elements for Autistic Children

(Applied Research)
MARK R. DIXON (University of Illinois at Chicago), Zhihui Yi (Univeristy of Illinois at Chicago), Aletha Sutton (Hawaii Department of Education Windward District Office), Dayna Williams (Hawaii Department of Education Windward District Office), Angelica Pikula (Hawaii Department of Education Windward District Office)

There has been consistent interest in examining the overall impact of relational frame theory (RFT) based applied behavior analysis (ABA) intervention among autistic individuals. Among these topics, increasing attention has emerged in examining RFT’s impact on the learner’s overall abilities, such as intelligence and autism symptom severity. A series of three studies were conducted, each with increasing sample size, length of intervention and precision of experimental control. Study one included a 12-week single center preliminary randomized trial among RFT-based ABA, conventional ABA, and a convenience waitlist control with 31 autistic participants. Study two included 83 autistic participants and involved a multi-center parallel-group randomized controlled trial between RFT-based ABA and treatment-as-usual with increased treatment intensity and inclusion of more standardized or criterion-referenced assessments. In study three, a year-long multiple-center parallel-group randomized controlled trial was conducted, with weekly exposure of 60-90 min of ABA intervention. 50 Pre-K participants were randomly assigned to receive RFT-based ABA or treatment-as-usual, and measures were taken on their intelligence, adaptive behavior skills, and conventional behavior-analytic assessments. Overall results showed that RFT-based ABA was uniquely positioned to produce global-level changes. Implications for the practice of ABA will be discussed.


The Emergence of Complex and Adaptive Relational Repertoires in Autistic Learners

(Applied Research)
JORDAN BELISLE (Missouri State University)

A conceptual link between relational frame theory and intelligent behavior has been discussed in the conceptual and empirical literature (Cassidy et al., 2010), where intelligent behavior is defined by its emergent and adaptive properties. Conceptualizations of relational framing that emphasize the relational field as comprising complex interdependent behavior networks may more closely approximate flexible intelligent behavior than traditional models. The presentation will discuss a series of studies that demonstrate the co-emergence of relational networks and verbal behaviors in autistic learners receiving behavior analytic services. The PEAK Comprehensive Assessment (PCA; Dixon, 2020) provides a measure of verbal operant learning and relational learning. Results from PCA outputs show the early emergence of elementary verbal operants with non-arbitrarily applicable relational responding and early forms of mutual entailment. Later skill development involves more complex forms of arbitrarily applicable relational responding, including combinatorial entailment of multiple frame families, and transformations of stimulus function. Interventions built from this relational learning model show the success of interventions adapted from PEAK at the subject-level across multiple levels and dimensions of relational responding (Barnes-Holmes et al., 2020). These results challenge traditional accounts of verbal behavior and expand on relational frame theory accounts of human learning and intelligence.


The Composition and Measurement of Relational Responding

(Basic Research)
Jamie Cummins (Ghent University), MARTIN FINN (Ghent University), Jan De Houwer (Ghent University), Maura Nevejans (Ghent University), Dylan Colbert (Dublin Business School)

Behaviour analysts increasingly recognize the importance of relational responding skills in human language and cognition, and view relational responding as a generalized operant response class. Studies typically delineate different “relational responses” along descriptive lines: for instance, “same/opposite” responding, “before/after” responding, “you/me” responding, etc. In order for the field to advance, our understanding of relational responding should evolve such that relational operant(s) are delineated functionally, rather than topographically. As well as this, valid, reliable, and precise measures of individual-level relational abilities are required, but existing measures have not been subjected to rigorous testing in this regard. In this talk, I will describe a series of studies that on the one hand seek to provide such a functional understanding of relational responding, and on the other hand also attempt to improve upon the reliability, validity, and precision of extant relational responding assessments. Combining results from a range of studies primarily in typically-developed adults, results suggest that our understanding of the functional relationship between relational operants can be improved via experimental investigation, but that more rigorous and precise measurement procedures are firstly required to do so.


Function Transformation Tasks: New Methods for Investigating Relational Responding and Transformations of Stimulus Functions

(Basic Research)
MARTIN FINN (Ghent University), Matthias Raemaekers (Ghent University), Jan De Houwer (Ghent University)

Relational responding is of psychological interest as a result of the transformations of stimulus functions that accompany relational responses. Recent research has developed a class of procedures specifically designed to investigate transformations of stimulus functions. This presentation will introduce this class of procedures, called function transformation tasks, and describe their core features and potential use cases. This talk will present data from a series of experiments each conducted with a sample of 20 verbally able human adults and in which two different function transformation tasks were employed. These experiments examined the establishment of contextual control over transformations of functions involving various kinds of stimulus properties across these two procedures. These experiments also examined the utility of these function transformation tasks in establishing novel relational mands (Murphy & Barnes-Holmes, 2009). The implications of function transformation tasks for future research on relational responding will be discussed, and some use cases for function transformation tasks in applied settings will be described.




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