Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

The Effects of an Observational Intervention on the Acquisition of Reinforcing Properties of a Previously Neutral Stimulus

Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

The Effects of an Observational Intervention on the Acquisition of Reinforcing Properties of a Previously Neutral Stimulus

Article excerpt

Humans can learn in one of two ways; through direct instruction, or through the observation of others (Greer, Singer-Dudek, & Gautreaux, 2006). Observational learning is the process in which an individual learns a new response/environment relation (one that was not previously in his repertoire) as a result of the observation of another individual receiving contact with the contingencies of reinforcement, punishment, and corrections of incorrect responses (Catania, 2007; Gautreaux, 2005). Greer et al. (2006) state that there are three different functions of observational learning, including 1) the emission of previously acquired operants, 2) the acquisition of new operants through observation, and 3) the acquisition of conditioned reinforcers through observation. Although observational effects on learning new operants has a growing literature (Brody, Lahey, & Combs, 1979; Egel, Richman, & Koegel, 1981; Griffen, Wolery, & Schuster, 1992; Goldstein & Mousetis, 1989; Greer, et. al, 2006; McDonald, Dixon, & Leblanc, 1986; Werts, Caldwell, & Wolery, 1996) and the effects of observation on performance has been studied extensively (Bandura, 1986; Bandura, Adams, & Beyer, 1977; Kazdin, 1973; Ollendick, Dailey, & Shapiro, 1983), the acquisition of conditioned reinforcers through observation appears to be a new type of observational learning that has only very recently been identified (Greer & Singer-Dudek, 2008; Greer, Singer-Dudek, Delgado, & Oblak, 2007; Greer, Singer-Dudek, Longano, & Zrinzo, in press; O'Rourke, 2006).

This new type of learning, identified as the acquisition of conditioned reinforcers by observation, can be defined as the acquisition of reinforcing properties of previously neutral stimuli as a function of observation (Greer et al., 2006; Greer & Singer-Dudek, 2008). Conditioned reinforcement, which typically results from the stimulus-stimulus pairings of unconditioned or conditioned reinforcers with initially neutral stimuli that lead to the acquisition of reinforcing properties for the previously neutral stimuli (Catania, 2007; Donahoe & Palmer, 2004; Dinsmoor, 2004; Kelleher & Gollub, 1962) has been identified in the literature as important for increasing students' communities of reinforcers while decreasing stereotypy (Greer, Becker, Saxe, & Mirabella, 1985; Nuzzolo-Gomez, Leonard, Ortiz, Rivera, & Greer, 2002) and increasing the rate of learning for textual responding (Tsai & Greer, 2006). However, stimulus-stimulus pairings can often be time consuming and, even then, are not always effective in conditioning new stimuli as reinforcers.

The use of peers has often been employed in conditioning new reinforcers for getting children to try new foods (Greer, McCorkle, & Sales, 1998; Greer & Sales, 1997) and inducing swallowing (Greer, Dorow, Williams, McCorkle, & Asnes, 1991). Greer and Singer-Dudek (2008) reported an observational procedure that was effective in converting small plastic discs for five participants or pieces of string for one participant from non-reinforcers to reinforcers for both learning and performance tasks. The present study was conducted in order to determine whether the results of this observational procedure (Greer & Singer-Dudek, 2008) would replicate when the neutral stimuli used were strings, since there was only one participant in the Greer and Singer-Dudek study for whom strings were used. Could small pieces of string, which hold neither inherent value nor generalized reinforcement application, be conditioned as reinforcers using this procedure with other participants? In other words, would the results replicate? If so, what would that mean for developing stimuli that require no back up reinforcement or satiation potential for educational applications?

Specifically, we wanted to further examine the role of the experimenter in the present study. …

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