Procedural descriptions in applied behavior analysis should "strive for relevance to principle" (Baer et al., 1968, p. 96). Otherwise, the field is in danger of becoming a bag of seemingly unrelated tricks, unlikely to expand in any systematic way. For example, simply providing a complete description of how parents did not attend to their child's excessive whining in an attempt to eliminate it would be insufficient. The description should also include the fact that whining was reinforced by parental attention, and extinction was applied by discontinuing that reinforcing consequence. Other practitioners attempting to replicate the procedure based on a description that "whining was not attended to" may run into problems. First, a second child's behavior may be maintained by a different reinforcing consequence, such as escape from demanding situations. Ignoring that child's whining would probably be ineffective at best (e.g., see Martin & Pear, 1998, Chapter 20). Second, identifying attention as a reinforcer suggests other alternatives, based on well-known factors that influence the effectiveness of reinforcement, such as establishing operations (e.g., see Martin & Pear, 1998, Chapter 4). Third, identifying "not attending to whining" as extinction suggests supplementary steps that could be taken, based on well-known factors that influence the effectiveness of extinction, such as maximizing the conditions for desirable alternative behavior. It also alerts practitioners to known pitfalls and undesirable ide-effects, such as extinction-induced aggression (e.g., see Martin & Pear, 1998, Chapter 5). Finally, a successful application of the principle of extinction in yet another slightly different context provides a systematic replication of that principle, enhancing our confidence in its reliability and demonstrating a generality of process (Sidman, 1960/1988).
Reports by classroom teachers, therapists, and teachers indicated that autistic children attending biweekly therapy sessions were unmotivated and engaged in frequent self-stimulatory behavior (e.g., rocking back and forth). It was agreed that a reasonable goal was to increase correct task responding from each child's academic curriculum (e.g., "touch your nose" versus "touch my nose"). In their report, the researchers noted that motivating autistic children can be difficult, in that these children often do not respond to rewards that interest other children, such as toys or praise. They reasoned that since the children frequently engaged in self-stimulation, then they must like the feeling it produces. Their intervention was described as rewarding correct task responding with the opportunity to engage in 3-5 seconds of self-stimulation.
Reports by classroom teachers, therapists, and teachers indicated that autistic children attending biweekly therapy sessions were unmotivated and engaged in frequent self-stimulatory behavior (e.g., rocking back and forth). It was agreed that a reasonable goal was to increase correct task responding from each child's academic curriculum (e.g., "touch your nose" versus "touch my nose"). In their report, the researchers cited previous studies suggesting that identifying reinforcers for autistic children can be difficult, in that these children often do not respond to stimuli that interest other children (e.g., toys) or to social reinforcers (e.g., praise). They also cited basic and applied research supporting the Premack Principle, which states that the opportunity to engage in a behavior that occurs frequently can be used to reinforce a behavior that occurs less often. Their intervention was described as reinforcing correct task responding with the opportunity to engage in 3-5 seconds of self-stimulation.
The first item is weak with respect to a description of the conceptual basis of the procedure. There was no attempt to relate the procedure to other basic and applied research that had employed similar principles. In fact, no principles are mentioned whatsoever. Terms such as "motivating" and "rewards" are not technical terms. Failing to identify (and perhaps recognize) the procedure as an instance of reinforcement may adversely affect attempts to replicate this study. For example, how soon following a correct response should a child be allowed to engage in self-stimulatory behavior? Should a child be allowed to engage in self-stimulation at other times during training? Non-technical terms are of little help in this regard. To what body of literature are practitioners to turn in order to research the answers to these types of questions?
The second item is better conceptually because it does discuss the procedure in terms of well-researched principles. For example, the Premack Principle is not only identified but it is also recognized as an example of reinforcement. As such, the efficacy of the procedure might be enhanced by giving special consideration to factors that influence reinforcement procedures (see, e.g., Martin & Pear, 1998, Chapter 4). For example, a reinforcing event should be delivered immediately and only after the target behavior. Another consideration is that should this procedure be successful, it would represent yet another systematic replication of the Premack Principle (as well as the principle of reinforcement), strengthening our confidence in the reliability of this principle and helping to extend the boundaries of its effective application.
Related Source: Charlop, Kurtz, & Casey (1990)