International Invited Paper - Autism, Joint Attention, and Verbal Behavior: Down to Basics of an Operant Analysis, Suggesting Technological Applications at Almost Every Step
|Prof. Per Holth received his degree from the University of Oslo. He is interested in behavior analysis in general; in basic research as well as conceptual issues and various areas of application. His specific interest in an operant analysis of joint attention arose while he was the Program Director at the Center for Early Intervention in Oslo (2000-2003), working with children diagnosed with autism, and joint attention phenomena have remained among his main research interests. He is one of the founders, and member of the editorial troika, of the European Journal of Behavior Analysis (EJOBA) and is now employed as a professor of behavior analysis at Akershus University College, Norway.
Joint attention, a synchronizing of the attention of two or more persons, has been an increasing focus of research in cognitive developmental psychology and behavior analysis. Much of this interest is grounded in the fact that children diagnosed with autism may display a syndrome-specific deficit in joint attention. Phenomena typically considered include gaze following, monitoring, social referencing, and protoimperative and protodeclarative gestures. First, from an operant perspective, a conceptual analysis is in order both because the concept of joint attention has come to refer to a number of different phenomena and because the specification of reinforcement contingencies can replace vague cognitive language of "intention," "sharing," and "theory of mind." Second, even if almost completely unrecognized in modern psychology, some very basic phenomena now studied in the context of joint attention, such as protoimperative and protodeclarative communication, were analyzed as verbal operants by Skinner more than 50 years ago. Third, certain contingencies and schedules of reinforcement that have been investigated in behavioral laboratories are directly relevant to devising procedures that aim to correct deficiencies in joint attention skills, for instance, in children with autism. A behavior-analytic perspective is inherently practical, suggesting technological applications at almost every step.