Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

The Clinical Utility of Two Reinforcement Preference Assessment Techniques: A Comparison of Duration of Assessment and Identification of Functional Reinforcers

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

The Clinical Utility of Two Reinforcement Preference Assessment Techniques: A Comparison of Duration of Assessment and Identification of Functional Reinforcers

Article excerpt

Educators have relied on the use of positive reinforcement techniques for many years to modify human behavior (e.g., Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). One particular challenge in working with individuals who exhibit developmental disabilities such as autism is that of selecting effective reinforcers. Caregiver interviews are frequently utilized but are not necessarily accurate predictors of reinforcers (e.g., Green, Reid, Canipe, & Gardner, 1991). As an alternative, Pace, Martin, Ivancic, Edwards, Iwata, and Page (1985) described a systematic preference assessment. Participants were presented with various stimuli, one at a time, and their approach or non-approach of the item was measured. Items which were approached were found to be more reinforcing than non-approached items when utilized in a behavior change program. Since then, several variations have been developed, including forced choice/paired stimulus (FC/PS; Fisher, Piazza, Bowman, Hagopian, Owens, & Slevin, 1992; Mason, McGee, Farmer-Dougan, & Risley, 1989), multiple stimulus presentations with replacement (MSW; Windsor, Piche, & Locke (1994), and the Multiple Stimulus Without Replacement (MSWO; DeLeon & Iwata 1996). In the PS approach, two potentially reinforcing items are presented at the same time and the participant is asked to "pick one." All items are compared to one another and their position on the table is controlled. In the MSW approach, all items are available to the participant at the same time. Once a selection is made and the participant accesses the item, it is placed back in the lineup for a second selection. Position in the line is controlled for by rotating the items after each selection. The MSWO procedure is similar except that once an item has been chosen, it is removed from the lineup. It is assumed that those items which are chosen first will function more effectively as reinforcers.

In addition to being able to accurately identify reinforcing items, it is critical to applied clinicians that preference assessment techniques are able to be carried out in the most efficient manner, with regard to duration of procedure. In order to better serve clients, it would be helpful to know which preference assessment techniques yield the most accurate prediction of reinforcers in the least amount of administration time. DeLe on and Iwata (1996) explored this topic by comparing the paired stimulus (PS) presentation, with the multiple stimuli with and without replacement presentations (MSW and MSWO).

They found that the MSW was the fastest to administer but that the MSWO and the PS "identified more stimuli that are at least minimally reinforcing than does the MS procedure" (p. 530). Thus, the purpose of the current research was to compare administration time of the MSWO and the PS assessments and their ability to accurately identify reinforcers given a sorting task.


Participants and Setting

Four individuals with a primary diagnosis of autism and varying levels of mental retardation served as participants. They lived in a private residential facility for individuals with developmental disabilities. These four males (ranging in ages, 14-20 years) followed simple one-step directions and were generally compliant throughout the study. One participant communicated using vocal speech, while the other three communicated via simple gestures and limited use of picture symbols. All participants required assistance with daily living skills such as tooth brushing and bathing. They were all able to feed themselves if food was cut up to the typical size.

The study was conducted at the residential school facility that the participants attended. Sessions were held in the school building in a room measuring 21' x 12'. This room had one window, eight chairs, and a large table.

Phase 1

Purpose and dependent measure

The purpose of phase 1 was to conduct preference assessments to determine length of time to complete and the relative rankings obtained. …

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