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 #390
CE Offered: BACB
A Constructional Approach to Understanding Assent in Nonverbal Organisms
Monday, May 27, 2024
8:00 AM–9:50 AM
Convention Center, 100 Level, 102 AB
Area: AAB/PCH; Domain: Translational
Chair: Lucero Neri-Hernandez (Children’s Health)
Discussant: Awab Abdel-Jalil (Upstate Caring Partners & Endicott College)
CE Instructor: Awab Abdel-Jalil, M.S.
Abstract: The topics of compassion and assent are currently of high importance in practice with both human and non-human animal learners. However, certain challenges may arise when developing assent-based procedures with nonverbal learners. Additional challenges arise when teachers attempt to create compassionate, assent-based programs while still fulfilling the institutional contingencies that are placed on them by the facilities at which they work, such as compliance with necessary, invasive medical procedures. In this session, the topics of compassion and assent are addressed through an experimental analysis of assent with rats. Numerous case studies are presented with zoo animals which illustrate how teachers can be aware of and measure assent behaviors, empower learners by providing greater degrees of freedom, and increase compassion and empathy in their interactions with their nonverbal learners. By taking a constructional approach and by analyzing the alternative contingencies available to an individual, we can create compassionate teaching programs built on a foundation of assent that benefit both nonverbal learners and their teachers, as well as the greater institutions they operate in.
Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): Animal training, Assent, Compassion, Constructional approach
Target Audience: BCBAs, Practitioners, Teachers, Trainers
Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) Define assent functionally from a nonlinear analytic perspective; (2) Define compassion functionally from a nonlinear analytic perspective; (3) List examples and non-examples of assent and compassion.
The Shape of Assent
(Service Delivery)
LISA CLIFTON-BUMPASS (Constructional Approach )
Abstract: What is the Constructional Approach to compassion-based assent building? In animal training and welfare, the concept of assent is nascent and often confused with coerced cooperation. For many teachers, the philosophy of empowering nonverbal learners to have greater degrees of freedom and assent within their environment is daunting, challenging the idea that behavioral mastery is the behavioral control over another. The operationalization of body language as being a purposeful and deliberate form of communication between conspecifics (animals of the same species), exhibit partners, and care givers is incipient and informs many programming decisions. In our discussion of case studies, we will examine how to be aware of and measure assent behaviors, body language as a dialog and a study of one, how to build the awareness of the body language, how assent challenges the system of traditional linear pathological programming, and what it means for trainers when our learner demonstrates a refusal response.

Advancing Animal Welfare Through Development of Assent Contingencies

(Service Delivery)

The Constructional Approach (Goldiamond, 1974/2002) allows for behaviors that empower non-verbal learners to communicate assent for invasive and non-invasive medical husbandry procedures, and behavioral management practices in the zoological settings. Compassion based assent coupled with the Constructional Approach creates a flexible foundation upon which complex behaviors are rapidly developed for both non-verbal learners and their trainers. Employing assent creates a profound shift from the traditional linear and pathological approaches by creating programs designed to serve the needs of a learner across the arc of their life. By training behaviors with assent contingencies, zoological professionals cultivate empathy awareness for their non-verbal learner’s experience in training procedures. Team members develop greater dedication and empathy for their learners, experience enhanced job satisfaction, and programs advance as organizational cultures envelop assent-based practices. In our discussion of case studies, we will explore how compassion, empathy, and the Constructional Approach changes animal welfare decisions and training outcomes.

Whose Needs Come First? The Constructional Approach to Compassion
(Service Delivery)
KYLE HETZEL (Oakland Zoo )
Abstract: In the animal behavior field practitioners focus on expediency, institutional needs and wants, versus the needs of the learner. Accredited animal care facilities are moving towards an animal centric welfare focus using various means of measurement and integrated multi-departmental involvement. Institutional needs often range from training interactions to the involvement in invasive medical diagnostics. However, many well-meaning measures and policies don't put the learner first and lack compassion for the learner’s experience. This can cause the learner to fall further behind in their life skills acquisition. As a result, when critical skills are needed the learner suffers through coercive means to accomplish the institution's needs. By utilizing the Constructional Approach, a deeper understanding develops of assent is formed by the learner through the shaping process of skill development. In this presentation we will review a case study to highlight the consequential aspect of the compassionate application of Constructional Approach programming.

Understanding Assent Through an Analysis of Alternative Contingencies

(Applied Research)
HANNAH DAVIS MCGEE (University of North Texas), Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (University of North Texas)

How do we know if we have a learner’s assent? This question has gained importance with both human and animal learners. To answer this question, it is essential to examine the alternative contingencies available to an individual during teaching. The use of positive reinforcement techniques is often considered non-aversive, and if a learner repeatedly initiates teaching sessions, it is generally assumed that participation is uncoerced. However, participation in positive reinforcement-based teaching may be coerced if the learner has no alternative way to access reinforcement (Goldiamond, 1974/2002). In this experiment, a rat received a positive reinforcer (chocolate pudding) contingent on participation in a training procedure. Results showed that when alternative contingencies were made available (e.g., free pudding, hiding, escape), the rat withdrew assent from the original procedure. Further, it was found that the rat did not engage with some alternatives (free pudding) unless alternatives that decreased the aversiveness of the environment (hiding, escape) were also available. These results support the ideas that assent cannot be obtained when 1) there are limited alternative ways to obtain a reinforcer, 2) available alternatives do not result in the same reinforcer, and 3) available alternatives do not decrease the aversiveness of the environment.




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