Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


33rd Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2007

Event Details

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Symposium #17
Beyond the Preference Assessment: Establishing Preference and the Utility of Preferred Stimuli as Reinforcers
Saturday, May 26, 2007
1:00 PM–2:20 PM
Area: DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Joel Eric Ringdahl (University of Iowa)
Abstract: The utility of preference assessments continues to be an important component in the design of behavior change and behavior acquisition programs to benefit individuals with developmental disabilities. Several strategies have been developed to identify preferred stimuli and subsequent research has demonstrated the utility of preferred stimuli as reinforcers. In the proposed symposia, 4 papers will be presented that address issues beyond the identification of preferred stimuli. One paper describes an intervention to improve play skills so that preferences could be identified for individuals whose play skills previously limited such assessments. Two papers address stimulus properties that affect the utility of preferred stimuli as reinforcers (preference level and task difficulty). The final paper evaluates the correlation between preference stability and reinforcing efficacy. Each of these papers extends the current research on stimulus preference assessments and their utility in designing behavior change and behavior acquisition programs.
The Effects of Increasing Appropriate Play Skills on Preference for Toys.
DAVID E. KUHN (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Louis P. Hagopian (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Stephanie A. Contrucci Kuhn (Kennedy Krieger Institute)
Abstract: Stereotypic behavior and inappropriate toy interaction are behaviors characteristic of individuals diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders. These behaviors can interfere with the development of appropriate leisure and other adaptive skills. In the current study, initial preference assessments yielded little information due to inadequate play skills displayed by four individuals diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders. Therefore, a differential reinforcement-based treatment was evaluated targeting appropriate toy contact and engagement (i.e., using the toy in the way in which it was designed). The effects of the intervention were evaluated in a multiple-baseline design across toys for each participant. Initially, baseline levels of item interaction were low to zero for all participants. Phase one of the intervention consisted of reinforcing appropriate toy contact with a preferred edible, followed by phase two where the reinforcement requirement was changed to appropriate toy engagement. Significant increases in toy contact and engagement were observed and maintained. Lastly, single stimulus engagement preference assessments were repeated, and an overall increase in appropriate interaction with trained and untrained toys was observed for 3 of the 4 participants. Interobserver agreement data were collected during at least 33% of all preference assessment and treatment evaluation sessions, and agreement coefficients remained above 80%.
The Relative Effects of High and Low Preference Stimuli on Responding.
AMY D. LIPCON (New England Center for Children), Jill A. Larsen (New England Center for Children), Erin Emiko Ellis (New England Center for Children), Melissa Brink (New England Center for Children), Richard B. Graff (New England Center for Children)
Abstract: Although a great deal of research has been published on conducting stimulus preference assessments, relatively little research has focused on identifying variables that impact preference assessment outcomes. In this study, paired-stimulus (PS) preference assessments were conducted with 7 individuals with developmental disabilities. In the first paired-stimulus assessment (PS-1), only items suspected to be highly preferred were included. Although distinct preference hierarchies were generated, subsequent single operant reinforcer assessments (RA-1) indicated that high- and low-preference stimuli were associated with similar response rates. A second PS assessment (PS-2) was then conducted, using the least-preferred item from PS-1, plus 7 new stimuli. The items ranked as least preferred on PS-1 were now ranked as most preferred on PS-2. On subsequent reinforcer assessments (RA-2), the top-ranked items from PS-2 were associated with high response rates, while the items ranked as least preferred did not function as reinforcers. Across participants, interobserver agreement (IOA) data were collected in at least 33% of PS and RA sessions; mean IOA was 99% (range, 96% to 100%). These results indicate that PS assessments do not suggest the absolute reinforcing value of stimuli, but instead only provide information related to the relative reinforcing value of stimuli.
Relative Effects of Task Difficulty and Response Effort on Reinforcer Assessment Outcomes.
LEAH KARA (New England Center for Children), Michelle A. Leonard (New England Center for Children), Erin Kelly (New England Center for Children), Richard B. Graff (New England Center for Children)
Abstract: Previous research has demonstrated that there may be little to no difference in reinforcing efficacy when high- and low-preference stimuli are assessed in single operant arrangements. Most studies that have demonstrated that low preference stimuli can function as effective reinforcers, however, have used simple free operant tasks during reinforcer assessments. This study examined how the results of reinforcer assessments were influenced by task difficulty. High- and low-preference stimuli were identified using paired-stimulus preference assessments for 3 individuals with developmental disabilities. Reinforcer assessments (ABAB design) were conducted using easy tasks (e.g., button press), and then were immediately repeated using more difficult tasks (e.g., completing math problems on a worksheet). Results indicated that for 2 participants, both high and low preference stimuli functioned as reinforcers when the easy task was used. When the reinforcer assessment was repeated with a difficult task, however, the high preference items functioned as reinforcers but the low preference items did not. For the 3rd participant, only the high preference item functioned as a reinforcer on both the easy and hard task. Interobserver agreement data were collected in at least 50% of preference and 33% of reinforcer assessment sessions for all participants; mean IOA exceeded 95%.
Assessment and Predictive Utility of Stability of Preference.
MICHAEL E. KELLEY (The Marcus Institute and Emory University), M. Alice Shillingsburg (The Marcus Institute), Crystal N. Bowen (The Marcus Institute)
Abstract: Previous research on stability of assessments of preference has produced variable results. For example, stability of preference has shown to be relatively high (e.g., Hanley, Iwata, & Roscoe, 2006) and moderate to low (e.g., Carr, Nicholson, & Higbee, 2000; Mason, McGee, Farmer-Dougan, & Risley, 1989; Zhou, Iwata, Goff, & Shore, 2001). Although assessment of preference is important for selection of potential reinforcers for use in treatment, previous research has not examined the extent to which stability of preference may be indicative of reinforcement efficacy. In the present study, we conducted daily-to-weekly preference assessments to determine the extent to which repeated exposure would yield similar outcomes. Next, we evaluated the predictive utility of stability of preference for reinforcement efficacy. Results suggested that stability preference was only moderately predictive of the extent to which stimuli may function as reinforcement for academic responding.



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