Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

The Things We Care to See: The Effects of Rotated Protocol Immersion on the Emergence of Early Observing Responses

Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

The Things We Care to See: The Effects of Rotated Protocol Immersion on the Emergence of Early Observing Responses

Article excerpt

As organisms living in a complex environment we are affected by multiple stimuli from moment-to-moment. As a result we have developed a singularly efficient method of selecting and attending to stimuli so that we can affect some kind of control over the environment in which we live. For some of us, observing is the foundation of our entire system of scientific inquiry (Haury, 2002). For most of us, observing connects the physical world, the sensory information we receive from it, and the uniting of those discriminations as we interpret that information.

Observing responses are operant responses that are selected out by their consequences. These responses can be measured in terms of their sensory modalities. When a child looks at a person calling his name, listens to someone giving a direction, tastes foods, smells a flower, or touches items across a variety of textures, the child is responding as an observer of the environment. The various stimuli that reinforce those responses provide a conditioning process for observing (Keohane, Delgado & Greer, in press). Importantly, observing responses and the reinforcers that support them are basic to the emergence of increasingly more complex behaviors (Donahoe & Palmer, 2004; Greer & Ross, 2008). As part of our search for more effective ways to provide instruction to children with disabilities so that they would have increased access to the social community, we became increasingly aware of the role of observing responses and their controlling stimuli.

Observing has been a topic of interest to many fields of inquiry. Psychology in particular has attempted to understand observing behavior. Over time, psychology has branched into a myriad of sub disciplines, each providing explanations of a variety of interests from divergent perspectives. With the specialization of sub disciplines, individuals have found it necessary to define the terms they use to talk about phenomena. How we define terms has far reaching effects for their application in research. As each sub discipline separated from the others, they often distinguished themselves by insisting on their own definitions and terms. Behaviorism did just that. Skinner proposed distinct vocabulary for use in talking about language and differentiated it from the terminology used by other types of psychologists (Skinner, 1957).

From a behavioral perspective, language and the study of language, has been greatly influenced by Skinner's proposition of a functional account of language. Observing is a critical element of language function and is treated in Skinner's account of language. Skinner referred to "observing behavior," and suggested that there may be some "automatically reinforcing properties" of observing behavior, when it functions to intensify or bring into focus the stimulus discriminative (p. 416). Donahoe and Palmer (2004) defined observing responses as: "acquired environment-behavior relations whose primary function is to affect the sensing of stimuli (p. 156)." Essentially, our ability to have salient environmental stimuli select our observing responses is adaptive and provides us with the controls of what we experience in our world.

We believe that observing responses represent the first instances of the joining of the listener and speaker repertoires, as defined by Skinner. As such, the joining provides an intersection of what are at first two distinct repertoires. We argue that joint control provides the first evidence of truly complex operant responding, particularly as it relates to the development of language. Observing appears to be critical to the foundation of the acquisition of language (Greer & Keohane, 2005; Keohane, Pereira Delgado, & Greer, in press) and as such, represents a valuable focus for research and inquiry.

Conceptually, observing responses, as we have defined them, can be compared to establishing operations or, perhaps even more so, to a setting factor in the physical sense (Bijou, 1996). …

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