Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Role of Verbal Behavior, Stimulus Nameability, and Familiarity on the Equivalence Performances of Autistic and Normally Developing Children

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Role of Verbal Behavior, Stimulus Nameability, and Familiarity on the Equivalence Performances of Autistic and Normally Developing Children

Article excerpt

There currently exists a well-established literature on demonstrations of derived equivalence relations in both adults and children (Carr, Wilkinson, Blackman & McIlvane, 2000; Devany, Hayes, & Nelson, 1986). In his seminal work on equivalence class formation, Sidman (1971) attempted to establish equivalence relations between written words and pictures in an effort to train an adult with mental retardation to read. This was the first study to employ the matching-to-sample (MTS) methodology as a medium in which to generate derived equivalence performances (for an historical account of Sidman's research on equivalence, see his 1994 book). Although Sidman's early work involved a mentally retarded participant, the majority of equivalence studies since have concentrated primarily on demonstrations of equivalence in typically developing and verbally sophisticated adult participants. Indeed, only limited research has investigated the formation of equivalence classes in developmentally disabled populations (Carr et al., 2000; Devany et al., 1986; Eikeseth & Smith, 1992).

One of the central issues that have been addressed in studies of equivalence with developmentally delayed populations is the role played by levels of verbal ability (Barnes, McCullagh, & Keenan, 1990; Devany et al., 1986). In the study by Devany et al., the researchers compared the equivalence performances of normally developing preschoolers, developmentally delayed children with limited verbal abilities, and developmentally delayed children with little or no verbal abilities. The results of the study indicated that all of the verbally able children (both normally developing and developmentally delayed) readily demonstrated equivalence, compared with none of the children from the verbally unskilled group. The researchers argued that their findings lent support to the view that language abilities covary, at least to some extent, with the ability to demonstrate equivalence. Barnes et al. (1990) reported similar results with children with hearing impairments.

One of the most notable attempts to account for the relationship between verbal abilities and equivalence was proposed by Horne and Lowe in their naming theory (Horne & Lowe, 1996). According to this account, equivalence relations are mediated through bidirectional stimulus relations that merge between speaker and listener repertoires. That is, individuals see the object to be named, name the object (speaker response), hear the name of the object (listening response), and then orient toward the object. In this naming cycle, the bidirectional relations between the object and the name are indirectly established. Hence, according to naming theory, the bidirectional relations that constitute equivalence are mediated through naming relations.

An implicit assumption of naming theory is that equivalence formation will, at least, be hampered in the absence of naming, and Dugdale and Lowe (1990) provided some support for this view when they reported that children's weak equivalence outcomes could be improved with explicit name training. These findings received further support when Eikeseth and Smith (1992) reported using a common naming strategy prior to, and during, conditional discrimination training to successfully establish two three-member equivalence classes in high-functioning children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Furthermore, in a study with normally developing 6-year-olds, Pilgrim, Jackson, and Galizio (2000) reported that instructed naming (Experimenter provided a name for each stimulus) generated more rapid derived equivalence performances than self-naming (participants encouraged to generate individualized name for each stimulus). While these latter findings raise questions about the means by which explicit naming strategies facilitate equivalence, they nonetheless offer further support to the view that naming is important in this regard.

As one would expect, counterevidence for naming theory has also emerged. …

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