Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Establishing Relational Responding in Accordance with Opposite as Generalized Operant Behavior in Young Children

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Establishing Relational Responding in Accordance with Opposite as Generalized Operant Behavior in Young Children

Article excerpt

Relational Frame Theory (RFT) has to date generated a substantive body of demonstration research with both adults and children that includes evidence of the derivation of novel stimulus relations in the experimental context (for a book-length review, see Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001). While some of this work has involved attempts to facilitate patterns of relational responding that emerge from preexisting behavioral repertoires (Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, Roche, & Smeets, 2001a; Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, Roche, & Smeets, 2001b; Healy, Barnes-Holmes, & Smeets, 2000), other studies have provided evidence of the establishment of relational repertoires that did not appear to exist prior to the experimental manipulations (Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, Smeets, Strand, & Friman, 2004; Lipkens, Hayes, & Hayes, 1993).

In the study by Barnes-Holmes, et al (2004), the researchers presented three young children, aged between four and six years old, with a problem-solving task that involved two or three identically-sized paper coins in an attempt to test and train patterns of relational responding in accordance with the arbitrary relations of more-than and less-than. On each trial, the experimenter described how the coins compared to one another in terms of their value (e.g., A buys more than B and B buys more than C), and the child was asked to pick the coin that would "buy as many sweets as possible". Within the context of the problem-solving task, numerous sets of coins were used to establish and test relational performances in accordance with more-than and less-than.

The results of the initial baseline tests of the arbitrary more-than and less-than relations conducted by Barnes-Holmes, et al. indicated that that target comparative performances did not appear to exist in the behavioral repertoires of the three young children. Interventions suggested by RFT, including training and testing across stimulus sets, were then successfully used to establish increasingly complex patterns of relational responding in all three children. Generalization tests demonstrated that the relational responding successfully generalized to novel stimuli and to a novel experimenter. In addition, the use of a non-contingent reinforcement condition for one participant, during which no improvement was made, together with contingency reversals for all children, indicated that the trained and tested relational responding may be considered a form of generalized operant behavior.

One potential criticism of the Barnes-Holmes, et al. study alluded to by the authors was the possibility that because the children were trained and tested on the same four trial-types, the resulting relational responses, though novel, were not genuinely derived (i.e., the children were exposed to novel stimuli, but not novel trial-types, during the tests). Although this possibility seems unlikely because novel stimuli were employed in the generalization tests, the current study attempted to address this issue specifically by the inclusion of novel numbers of stimuli in the context of establishing relational responding in accordance with opposite.

To test and train responding in accordance with opposite, a similar problem-solving task was designed that involved presenting a child with various numbers of identically-sized paper coins. On each trial, the experimenter specified that one of the coins (either the first or the last in the sequence) was worth the value of many or few sweets and thereafter described how the coins compared to one another. As in the previous study, the child was then asked to pick the coin or coins that would buy as many sweets as possible. For example, in the simplest opposite task participants were presented with two coins and instructed: "If this coin buys many sweets, and is opposite to this coin (i.e., A=MANY: A opp. B) which would you take to buy as many sweets as possible?" Numerous sets of coins and objects were used to test and train the relational performances in order to establish specific patterns of opposite responding. …

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