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 #59
CE Offered: BACB
Advancing Relational Frame Theory: Networks and Brains
Saturday, May 25, 2024
10:00 AM–11:50 AM
Convention Center, 100 Level, 111 AB
Area: VRB; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Taylor Carroll (Missouri State University)
Discussant: Jordan Belisle (Missouri State University)
CE Instructor: Jordan Belisle, Ph.D.

Relational Frame Theory (RFT; Hayes et al., 2001) proposes that (1) derived relational responding occurs across multiple frame families, (2) derived relations can transform the function of environmental stimuli, and (3) derived relational responding is a generalized operant. These assumptions are tested across a series of translational and applied studies with learners receiving ABA services and translational analyses with college student participants. The first presentation evaluates the interdependency of skills targeted in the LIFE assessment (Dixon, 2020) that incorporates relational learning, and results suggest that skills emerge within interconnected relational networks across for autistic and neurotypical learners. The second presentation isolates the emergence of relational frames using a Relational Density Theory framework embedded within play-based instruction (Dixon, 2014-2016), with results supporting the use of a selection-based multi-dimensional scaling procedure. The third presentation demonstrates the use of an experimental analysis built on Relational Density Theory to isolate relational framing patterns that participate in adaptive behavior repertoires for autistic learners in a series of clinical cases. The final presentation expands the discussion of interdependent learning to neurological activity that co-occurs with derived relational responding, highlighting the role of interdependent neural systems within relational responding.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

behavior analysts and practitioners. no prerequisite skills.

Learning Objectives: 1. Describe the interrelatedness of items in the LIFE Functional Model 2. Discuss the role of relational network in RFT and ACT case conceptualization 3. Discuss the role of neurological action in derived relational responding
The Emergence of Relational Networks Following Play-Based Instruction Using PEAK
MIKAYLA CAMPBELL (Missouri State University), Jordan Belisle (Missouri State University), Kaitlyn Hui (Missouri State University- student), Jenna Huskey (Missouri State University), Katelyn Frahm (Missouri State University), Bentley Elliott (Missouri State University), Lindsey Schneider (Emergent Learning Center), Mark R. Dixon (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Abstract: The PEAK Relational Training System (Dixon, 2014-2016) provides a framework to teach complex language skills to autistic learners informed by Relational Frame Theory. Using a Relational Density Theory approach, relational networks of can be graphed in a geometric space to show understanding of complex concepts (Belisle & Dixon, 2020). The first study evaluated the relational network of mastered PEAK symmetry programs compared to the relational network of arbitrary stimuli. Results showed more dense relational networks of responding with the mastered PEAK programs, suggesting a possible avenue to measure acquisition of complex language skills. In the second study, we taught PEAK symmetry programs more flexibly using naturalistic teaching strategies and analyzed relational networks including the stimuli from the symmetry programs before and after training. Results showed a difference in the density of relational networks, suggesting the effectiveness of using naturalistic teaching strategies to teach complex symmetry programs. Moreover, the geometric representation of relational networks for PEAK programming allows for more flexible training of the skills that can be better suited for each individual’s preferences and needs.
Utilizing the Spatial Evaluation of Language Flexibility for Youth (SELF-Y) in Clinical Case Conceptualization
KATELYN FRAHM (Missouri State University), Mikayla Campbell (Missouri State University), Jordan Belisle (Missouri State University), Dana Paliliunas (Missouri State University), Lindsey Schneider (Emergent Learning Center), Mark R. Dixon (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Abstract: This talk details a series of three case studies conducted over the course of two years that piloted the use of the Spatial Evaluation of Language and Flexibility for Youth (SELF-Y; Paliliunas & Belisle, 2023) as a form of relational experimental functional analysis to inform intervention approaches rooted in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. In each case, the SELF-Y was administered prior-to the intervention and co-occurred with other established behavioral and flexibility assessments. In the first two cases, relations consistent with psychological inflexibility were observed. In the third case, relations consistent with psychological flexibility were observed in the context of school; however, relations consistent with psychological inflexibility were observed in the context of social interaction. Programming combining elements of the AIM curriculum (Dixon & Paliliunas, 2016) and the LIFE Functional Module (Dixon, 2018) was developed and highly individualized to each case. The first two cases were conducted remotely and a film-analysis suggested engagement for one of the participants who also showed greater flexibility on the SELF-Y following intervention. In the third case, programming was devivered in person and targeted social engagement, where results showed improvements in social engagement and flexibile experiencing of social engagement.
Evaluation of the LIFE Skills System and Comparison to Autistic Learners
KAITLYN HUI (Missouri State University- student), Jordan Belisle (Missouri State University), Zhihui Yi (Univeristy of Illinois at Chicago), Mark R. Dixon (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Abstract: The LIFE Functional Module (Dixon, 2020) provides a comprehensive assessment and curriculum designed to teach daily living, social, leisure, and other skills to support independence and well-being for neurodivergent learners. LIFE, like the PEAK Relational Training System (Dixon, 2014-2016), is a developmental assessment that assumes more complex behavior topographies and functions build on simpler topographies that recombine in novel ways to further develop an individual’s repertoire regarding skills promoting independence.  A linear regression of the normative sample should a strong, significant correlation between age and scores on the LIFE assessment, consistent with developmental assumptions and supporting the factor structure of LIFE. The same correlation was not observed for the autistic sample. Scores from both samples were combined to conduct a principal component analysis of LIFE items, revealing a high level of interdependency for individual skills. When graphed in a 3-dimensional geometric model, the emergence of skills ranged from simple to complex on the assessment. Future research should continue to evaluate the validity and reliability of LIFE with autistic learners to support behavior analytic programming that is individualized to each learner.

Relational Training and Neurology: Evidence From Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)

ZHIHUI YI (Univeristy of Illinois at Chicago), Mark R. Dixon (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Relational Frame Theory (RFT) is a contemporary behavior analytic account of human language and cognition. Emerging evidence suggests that relational training procedures can uniquely produce changes in overall cognitive abilities as measured by IQ among both neurodivergent (Dixon et al., 2023) and neurotypical (Cassidy et al., 2011) participants, whereas conventional methods failed to produce such an effect. One potential explanation lies in the underlying neurological correlates and the functional changes produced by relational training procedures. The current study extended prior work on stimulus equivalence and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI; e.g., Hinton et al., 2010; Ogawa et al., 2010) by incorporating non-equivalent relational frames, refining parameters of the behavior task, and investigating the changes in functional connectivity among areas involved in relational responding after exposure to a relational training protocol. In study 1, a group of neurotypical participants completed a relational responding task that consisted of a set of 60 randomly selected questions, distributed across six relational frames and between two levels of difficulty. Results established a baseline of responding and the parameters to be used during the fMRI task. Results also indicated statistically significant differing response time between arbitrary and non-arbitrary stimuli, and among different relational frames. In study 2, a different group of neurotypical participants initially completed the same relational responding task during fMRI, and subsequently completed a week-long relational training protocol. Participants then completed the same relational responding task during fMRI as a follow-up. Implications on relational training and its neurological correlates will be discussed.




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