Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

Child and Adult Social-Emotional Benefits of Response-Contingent Child Learning Opportunities

Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

Child and Adult Social-Emotional Benefits of Response-Contingent Child Learning Opportunities

Article excerpt

Abstract

Findings from two studies of 42 children with profound developmental delays (26 males and 15 females) using systematic and intense response-contingent learning opportunities interventions are reported. Response-contingent learning games were used to promote the participants' use of behavior that either produced environmental consequences or elicited reinforcing stimuli. The focus of analysis was the social--emotional benefits of the learning opportunities on both the children and adults (parents and teachers). Results showed that child production of behavior producing reinforcing consequences was associated with heightened positive social--emotional benefits in both the children and adults.

Keywords: Child learning, response-contingent reinforcement, social--emotional behavior, early intervention.

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More than 100 years ago, Baldwin (1895) noted that infants who come to "know" that their behavior is the "cause" of environmental effects often demonstrate increased behavioral responding in other areas, most notably social and emotional behaviors such as smiling, laughter, and excitement. Piaget (1936/1952) made similar observations based on the detailed study of his own three infants. Both Haith (1972) and McCall (1972) noted that an infant's ability to understand that he or she is the agent of an environmental consequence produces social--emotional behavior because cognitive achievement is pleasurable. Watson (1972) in his seminal paper Smiling, Cooing, and "The Game," described the importance of contingency awareness and detection as determinants of both the likelihood and strength of the social--emotional concomitants of response-contingent learning (see also Watson, 2001).

Most infants learn response-contingent behavior and develop contingency awareness (Watson, 1966) and contingency detection (Tarabulsy, Tessier, & Kappas, 1996) by 2 months of age. Infants and young children with disabilities often take longer to learn contingency behavior but appear to develop contingency awareness and detection in a manner much like infants without disabilities (see especially Dunst, Storck, Hutto, & Snyder, 2006; Hutto, 2003).

The extent to and manner in which response-contingent learning is associated with positive child social--emotional behavior was the focus of a research synthesis completed by Dunst (2003) of studies of infants and young children with and without disabilities or delays. The synthesis included 30 studies of infants without disabilities or delays and 12 studies of infants and young children with disabilities or delays. The two sets of studies included 898 and 199 study participants respectively. Findings from the synthesis showed that response-contingent learning opportunities where the relationship between an operant behavior and its environmental consequences were clearly detectable increased the likelihood that the study participants displayed increased positive social--emotional behavior and decreased negative social--emotional responding. The patterns of relationships between contingency awareness and child social--emotional behavior were much the same for children with and without disabilities or delays, although the children with disabilities or delays generally displayed less positive social-emotional behavior compared to their typically developing counterparts. Notwithstanding these differences, the results of the synthesis taken together were consistent with contentions made by Tarabulsy et al. (1996) regarding the role contingency detection and awareness plays in social--emotional development.

The studies described in this paper were both a replication and extension of previous studies of young children with disabilities or delays. Two studies--one with children with profound disabilities and delays and their parents and the other with children with profound disabilities and delays and their teachers--were conducted as part of a line of research and practice investigating the characteristics and consequences of providing young children with profound developmental delays and multiple disabilities systematic and intense response-contingent learning opportunities. …

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