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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Paper Session #337
A Conceptual Review of Social Referencing
Sunday, May 26, 2024
5:00 PM–5:25 PM
Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 1-2
Area: DEV
Instruction Level: Intermediate
Chair: Pamela Nichole Peterson (Melmark New England)
A Conceptual Review of Social Referencing
Domain: Applied Research
PAMELA NICHOLE PETERSON (Melmark New England), Rebecca P. F. MacDonald (New England Center for Children)
Abstract: Social referencing is a behavior chain that occurs in the presence of ambiguous stimuli and consists of an observing response and conditional discrimination. Emerging in the first year of infancy, social referencing has come of increasing interest within the field of applied behavior analysis due to the absence of the response in children with autism. The majority of descriptive and experimental studies have been conducted by developmental researchers. These studies point up environmental variables that warrant further consideration in the context of contingency analyses. The experimental analysis of behavior defined as developmental, such as social referencing, was considered by Baer (1973) to be one step toward the prediction and control of developmental behavior. Such an endeavor would be of benefit as clinicians seek to establish this repertoire in children with autism. This paper will address the call to action presented in Baer (1973) by reviewing putative controlling variables posited within the developmental literature through the lens of various contingencies. The discussion will include review of recent data from a contingency analysis that provides support for the role of ambiguity as a transitive conditioned motivating operation (CMO-T) in the occurrence of a differential observing response in the social referencing behavior chain.



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