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.


42nd Annual Convention; Downtown Chicago, IL; 2016

Event Details

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Symposium #236
Human-Animal Interactions and Animal-Assisted Interventions
Monday, May 30, 2016
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
Zurich C, Swissotel
Area: AAB/AUT; Domain: Translational
Chair: Terri M. Bright (MSPCA Angell)

Although the benefits of Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) for both animals and humans are often reported in the media, systematic and experimental research is largely lacking in this field. Furthermore, behavioral research is even rarer. In a sequence of talks, we will explore the variables that improve the relationship between cats, dogs, and humans. Then, we will report on research in the use of Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) for special human populations. The first talk will assess the utility of therapy dogs as reinforcers in educational settings with children. The second talk will examine how human interaction and reinforcement histories of domesticated cats can alter cat sociability. Finally, the third talk will determine the utility of service dogs to reduce work stress in military veterans. This symposium highlights research that strives to bring together behavioral methodologies and HAI and AAI fields.

Keyword(s): Cat behavior, Human-Animal Interaction, Therapy dog, Veterans

Comparison of Contingent and Non-Contingent Access to Therapy Dogs to Improve Reading in Children

ALEXANDRA PROTOPOPOVA (Texas Tech University), Jeanne M. Donaldson (Texas Tech University), Katie Wiskow (Texas Tech University), Ashley Matter (Texas Tech University), Breanna Harris (Texas Tech University)

The aim of the project was to determine the benefit of access to a therapy dog as a reinforcer for educational task completion in children and to develop a screening assessment to predict this benefit. In Experiment 1, we conducted a preference assessment, in which various leisure items as well as a therapy dog were included in the stimulus array. In Experiment 2, in a single-subject multi-element design, we then determined the efficacy of a therapy dog in improving task-related behavior as well as mitigate associated stress. In Experiment 2, each child was randomly assigned to a sequence of conditions: contingent access to a therapy dog, non-contingent access to a therapy dog, contingent access to other preferred leisure activities, and contingent praise. The motivation to engage in the educational activity as well as behavioral and physiological markers of stress were assessed in all conditions.

Factors Influencing the Social Behavior of Pet Cats
KRISTYN VITALE (Oregon State University), Monique Udell (Oregon State University)
Abstract: Although cats have coexisted with humans for thousands of years, relatively little scientific research has investigated how human interaction influences the social behavior of individual cats. This study examined if human familiarity or attentional state influences cat sociability- or the individual preference of a cat to seek contact and close proximity with a human. Twenty-three adult pet cats participated in a sociability test in their homes. Cats were presented with a familiar or unfamiliar human who was either inattentive or attentive. Data were analyzed using Fisher’s exact tests. Results indicate when the human was attentive the cats were more social. Significantly more cats spent time in proximity to the attentive unfamiliar and familiar human as compared to the inattentive condition. Additionally, pet cats displayed a large range of individual variability within each condition. This indicates other factors, such as lifetime experience or learning, may influence cat sociability. We are currently conducting positive reinforcement based kitten training classes to investigate how factors, such as training and additional socialization, influence the behavior of cats and their owners. This body of research demonstrates that human interaction can influence cat social behavior and other experiences, such as training, may influence an individual cat’s sociability.

Returning Our Veterans to Employment and Reintegration: Work Stress and Assistance Animals

ANNE M. FOREMAN (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), Lindsay Parenti (West Virginia University), B. Jean Meade (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), Matthew E. Wilson (West Virginia University), Oliver Wirth (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder face barriers that can prevent them from successfully reintegrating into society and returning to work. Service dogs are increasingly used as an intervention to help ameliorate symptoms of psychiatric disorders, but there is a dearth of empirical evidence on their effectiveness. Nine male veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who have service dogs were recruited to participate in a laboratory study. The magnitude and time course of their stress and startle responses before, during, and after a task designed to simulate different kinds of work-related stress were assessed. Stress and startle responses were measured using physiological, psychological, and behavioral metrics during baseline, task, and recovery periods. Across conditions, the veteran was alone, with his dog, or with an unfamiliar, friendly dog. The effects of the presence or absence of each dog was compared to the alone condition. Preliminary results suggest that familiar dogs produce greater reductions in stress responses when compared to unfamiliar dogs. These results contribute to our understanding of the therapeutic effects of emotional support and psychiatric service dogs.




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