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Effects of conditioning reinforcement for print stimuli on match-to-sample responding in preschoolers.


One of the major challenges in the fields of education, psychology, and speech therapy is to develop science based research procedures to teach children with language disabilities how to acquire repertoires for learning more complex verbal skills. Keohane, Delgado, and Greer (2008) argue that the foundations for the development of early verbal language in children consists of a child's observing responses such as looking, listening, tasting, smelling and touching. When observing responses such as looking and making sustained eye contact with adults and other visual stimuli do not function as conditioned reinforcement for children, these children fail to develop a correspondence between what they hear and see concurrently. Moreover, children that lack these conditioned reinforcers for observing responses are likely to find it difficult, if not impossible, to learn more complex skills such as language acquisition, generalized matching and becoming more aware of different stimuli in their environment.

Children with disabilities often have difficulty attending and discriminating among the relevant properties of stimuli to master both basic and generalized matching. Greer and Ross (2008) based on Skinner's (1957) theory of verbal behavior identified this deficit (lack of observing/attention to instructional) stimuli as a developmental capability or "cusp." Drawing on Ruiz and Baer's (1997) treatment of the acquisition of critical repertoires as behavioral developmental cusps, Greer and Ross summarized a body of research that they argue identify several verbal developmental "cusps." They suggest that these building blocks make it possible for children to learn listener and speaker responses and the joining of listener and speaker repertoires that make progressively more complex verbal behavior possible. Ruiz and Baer characterized a developmental cusp as "a special instance of behavior, a change crucial to what can come next...." (p. 533). Several years earlier Staats (1968, p. 267) suggested something like behavioral developmental cusps. Several verbal developmental cusps and stages have been identified in the research literature and described as verbal developmental capabilities. The very earliest foundations for verbal development include cusps that consist of conditioned reinforcement for observing responses (Dinsmoor, 1985; Donahoe & Palmer, 2004; Greer & Ross, 2008)

Recently, Keohane, Greer, & Ackerman (2006), tested the effects of conditioning sustained eye contact with three-dimensional (3D) objects (Visual Tracking Protocol) on the acquisition of matching responses for a participant for whom looking at or observing 3D instructional stimuli on a table that were not reinforcers for visual observing responses. They found that when 3D stimuli were paired with unconditioned reinforcers (e.g. food) until the 3D stimuli alone reinforced observing, the participants' mean-learn-units-to criteria dramatically decreased for learning match-to-sample instruction, and also his attending skills increased. The stimuli were conditioned as reinforcers for observing after the stimulusstimulus paring, which resulted in significant decreases in the numbers of learn units the participants required to master visually related instructional material. The significant acceleration in rate of learning for these participants suggest the role of conditioned reinforcement for observing responses as a developmental cusp, since the participants could learn discriminations they could not learn prior to intervention. The newly conditioned reinforcers for observing responses constituted acquisition of a developmental cusp.

Keohane, Delgado, and Greer (2008), surmised that observing responses in children are tied to and are a result of conditioned reinforcement for observing. When a child is missing this capability, experimentally based conjugate reinforcement procedures or a stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure can be used to induce conditioned reinforcement for observing responses for print and 3D instructional stimuli.

Skinner (1957) characterized observation as an operant behavior selected out by the consequences of that which is observed, and Holland (1958) empirically demonstrated operant observing responses. The control of print stimuli for looking is identified in the science of behavior as conditioned reinforcement of stimuli for observing responses (Dinsmoor, 1983; Greer, 1980) and the processes for conditioning stimuli involve Pavlovian second order conditioning that consists of stimulus-stimulus pairing operations (Sundberg, Michael, Partington, & Sundberg, 1996). Donahoe and Palmer (2004) provide convincing evidence of how the operant and respondent are joined even at the neural level. In the behavioral pedagogical literature, the operations of reinforcement conditioning are seen as the source for broadening a child's community of interests (Greer, 2002). Conditioned reinforcement has received little attention in the basic or applied literature in the last two decades, but there is a significant earlier literature.

Laboratory instrumentation was developed in the sixties and seventies for measuring reinforcement as moment-to-moment control for listening or looking responses to auditory and visual stimuli (Morgan & Lindsley, 1966; Rheingold, Stanley, & Doyle, 1964). Various conjugate reinforcement instruments were designed and used to test the reinforcement control of episodic stimuli for observing responses. A conjugate apparatus, and the related procedure, provides the necessary experimental control for the measurement and reinforcement of one or more stimulus alternatives, biases in exposure, location, and other variables. This methodology allowed the experimenter to assess responding as true "free operant responding." Episodic stimuli such as music, speech, television, video-recorded faces, and motion pictures are all stimuli in which the specific content varies from moment-to-moment--hence they are episodic (Cotter & Spradlin, 1971; Cotter & Toombs, 1966; Greer, Dorow, Wachhaus, & White, 1973; Lovitt, 1965, 1968). These procedures and instrumentation provided precise measures of the moment to moment reinforcement control of observing responses as: (a) either the relative duration that stimuli selected out observing responses by requiring the participants to maintain a switch closure, or (b) maintain rates of responding with toggle switches. For example, pressure switches in a pillow under an infant can be used to measure the reinforcement of various stimuli such as pictures of a mother's face, different voices, types of musical stimuli, and shapes or colors to name a few possibilities.

This methodology and the interest in studying observing responses as operant responses that were selected by various stimuli led to numerous laboratory studies that resulted in a conditioning procedure whereby children were taught to prefer and to spend more free time with previously non-preferred episodic stimuli by stimulus-stimulus pairing procedures (Greer, Dorow, & Hanser, 1973; Greer, Dorow, & Randall, 1974; Greer, et al., 1973; Greer, Dorow, & Wolpert, 1980). In these studies, the measurement of reinforcement control of observing responses via the conjugate reinforcement instrumentation served as the dependent variable and the stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure as the independent variable. This stimulus-stimulus conditioning procedure, in conjunction with the use of substitute human observers (to replace the laboratory instrumentation) resulted in applied research in which the conditioning of manipulating toys or observing books replaced stereotypy as a preferred activity (Greer, Becker, Saxe, & Mirabella, 1985; Nuzzolo-Gomez, Leonard, Ortiz, Rivera, & Greer, 2002). In addition to replacing stereotypy with appropriate play, by conditioning play responses to toys or observing responses to books, the procedures from these studies also introduced applied techniques and measures for testing the effects of conditioning books as reinforcers for looking at books and increased preference for or "choice" of books in free play settings (Tsai & Greer, 2006). Tsai and Greer reported that conditioning book stimuli such that the preschoolers with no reading skills chose looking at books for 75% of free operant 10-minutes sessions resulted in a significant acceleration in their rate of achieving mastery of textual responding (i.e., significantly fewer learn units to criteria than they required prior to the conditioning process). These findings suggested that the newly conditioned reinforcement for book stimuli resulted in accelerated learning and hence met the criterion for a verbal developmental cusp.

Greer, Dorow & Wolpert (1980) reported similar acceleration in young children achieving discriminations of complex musical stimuli following conditioning of music stimuli as reinforcement for selection of previously non-preferred music . In earlier studies the acquisition of conditioned reinforcement was the dependent variable (Geer et al., 1985; Greer, Dorow and Hanser, 1973; Greer, Dorow & Randall, 1975) (e.g., engaging with the newly conditioned reinforcers, or engaging with the newly conditioned reinforcer that replaced the automatic reinforcement control of stereotypy in free time). The studies showed that children who received the conditioning procedure preferred & spent more free time with previously non-preferred music in free operant laboratory settings. However in the Greer and Wolpert (1980), study as in the Tsai and Greer (2006) study and the one we report herein, conditioned reinforcement constituted the independent variable and the dependent variable consisted of rate of learning (i.e., measures of learn units to criteria on learning tasks).

In the music conditioning studies and other conjugate reinforcement studies described above, the observing responses consisted of an assessment of listening or looking that required the participants to maintain switch closures under laboratory controlled free-operant conditions. Chart recorders were used to directly record selection responses as duration of responding at the level of seconds. In the book or toy conditioning procedures and those used herein, the target stimulus control for visual observing was determined by human observers who used continuous 5-sec. observational intervals--an applied observational procedure for estimating duration.

Similar to the findings in Greer & Wolpert (1980) and Tsai and Greer (2006), Dinsmoor (1985) reported the development of observing responses in pigeons and its subsequent effect on discrimination. Dinsmoor suggested that stimulus control was established and strengthened as a result of increase in observational control of some dimension of a stimulus following conditions of reinforcement in the presence of a target stimulus, and no reinforcement in its absence. The greater the proportion of time spend on observing or attending to specific stimuli resulted in a proportional acceleration acquisition of stimulus control for operant responding.

Sundberg, Michael, Partington, & Sundberg (1996) used a stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure to condition vocal sounds as reinforcers for participants who had limited vocal verbal repertoires. An unconditioned reinforcer (tickling) was paired with the emission of target words, sounds. Following the stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure, all participants emitted the target sounds in free play settings showing that the sounds became automatic reinforcers for emitting vocal sounds. They also reported that the participants acquired novel vocal responses without any direct reinforcement, echoic training, or prompts. Yoon (2000) replicated and extended these finding in two experiments to examine the effects of a stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure on conditioning vocal sounds as a reinforcer for four participants with serious language delays. In Experiment 1, she replicated the Sundberg et al. (1996) finding. In Experiment 2 she found that children who could not learn echoics prior to the conditioning procedure did so after the conditioning procedure when the echoic to mand conditions were reinstated. The establishing operations for the mand converted the parroting responses to verbal mands after the conditioning occurred. Thus the parroting response was converted from a nonverbal response to an echoic -to-mand response that was a verbal response (Skinner, 1957).

In the experiment presented herein, we tested whether acquisition of conditioned reinforcement for looking at print stimuli would result in accelerated rates of learning visual match-to-sample discriminations. Prior to the conditioning intervention we tested, print stimuli were not conditioned reinforcers for observing responses for the participants in the present study and they had experienced extreme difficulty in acquiring visual discriminations from direct instruction.



There were three participants in this study. Participant A was a 5-year old female who was diagnosed as a preschooler with a disability. However, at the time of the experiment, the participant had been in her current classroom for two years where her learning was continuously monitored and at the onset of the experiment she was functioning at a basic listener and emerging speaker levels of verbal behavior (Greer & Keohane, 2005). In the classroom prior to the experiment she had been taught and mastered one and two-step responses to following directions , one and two-step imitation sequences. She could maintain eye contact for up to 10-seconds as a result of instruction. She emitted mands using the autoclitic frame "I want__please," and tacted pictures and objects using single utterances. The participant was also toilet trained.

Participant B was a 3-year old male who at the time of the experiment was functioning at an emergent speaker/listener level of verbal behavior. At the time of the experiment, his curricular programs consisted of following one-step directions, eye contact, one and two-step imitations in a group with another peer, and looking at books appropriately at the table. He emitted two word utterances as mands ("__"_ please,") and one word utterances to tacts of objects and pictures. He too was toilet trained and would independently mand for the toilet.

Participant C was a 3-year old boy who was diagnosed with autism. At the time of the experiment, he functioned at an emergent listener/emerging speaker level of verbal behavior. He emitted single word mands and tacts. He was also being instructed in basic listener and imitations skills such as sitting still when requested to by the teacher, imitating motor actions and establishing and maintaining eye contact and following one-step directions. He was not toilet trained.

The participants were selected for this study because they did not attend to instructional print stimuli (e.g., 2 dimensional (2D) materials in the form of letters on flashcards, shapes on flashcards, and identical pictures) for their 2D match-to-sample instructional programs. Implementation of research based tactics, such as zero second time delay, positional prompts, while simultaneously presenting the target stimuli with a foil or non-target stimulus (e.g., a blank flashcard, a 3D object) (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007) had not resulted in the acquisition of correct independent responses, using the standard curricular criterion of 90% accuracy for two consecutive sessions of 20-learn units each for visual match-to-sample curricula. For all three participants, the mean-learn-units-to criteria for these programs were much higher than their mean-learn-units-to criteria for their other curricular programs.

The term "learn unit" is a set of components for instructional presentations that have been shown to predict learning and is well documented as a necessary, if not sufficient, component of effective instruction (Albers & Greer, 1991; Emurian, 2004; Emurian, Hu, Wang & Durham, 2000; Greer 2002; Greer & McDonough, 1999; Ingham & Greer, 1992). Each participant's standardized test scores and age equivalence information was obtained from their individual educational plan (IEP). All standardized tests were independently administered by professionals within an agency in the participants' school district and were not done at school by the experimenters. The experimenters determined levels of verbal behavior based on verbal developmental protocols from Greer & Ross (2008) and their existing repertoires were determined by direct and formal assessment in the school. Each participant is described in detail in Table 1.



The study was conducted in a publicly funded, privately-run preschool for children with and without disabilities that was located in a suburban area outside of a large metropolitan city. The preschool used the CABAS[R] Comprehensive Application of Behavior Analysis to Schooling) model of instruction and curricula that included the prerequisites to, and components of, the New York Stated Educational Standards for grades kindergarten to grade two. (Greer 1996).

All sessions in the study were conducted within each participant's classroom. Participant A and C were in a classroom for children from three to five years old, where the ratio was six participants one teacher and two teaching assistants. Participant B was in an Early Intervention classroom, for participants up to age three. The classroom had six participants, one teacher, and two teaching assistants. Within each classroom there were several child size tables and chairs and a play area.

During pre-experimental probes for looking-at-print-stimuli on a page (Figure 1), the participants sat at a child size table in a child sized chair and the experimenter sat adjacent to each participant and presented 20.32 x 27.94 cm sheets of paper containing multiple -exemplars of 15-20 non-preferred 2D stimuli with no vocal verbal antecedent. Whenever an independent observer was present, she sat next to the experimenter. During the treatment phase, the setting was the same and a stimulus-stimulus reinforcement pairing protocol was used to condition non-preferred 2D visual stimuli on pages. The stimuli were identified as non-preferred because the participants did not attend or select out the stimuli when presented to them. A set of five pages of non-preferred 2D exemplars used during the pre-experimental probes were not incorporated as a part of the materials used in the pairing protocol because they were reserved for the post-interventions probes to determine that the independent variable, conditioned reinforcement for observing, had been implemented. During the study, other participants received instruction at adjacent tables or played in the toy area.


The materials (See Figure 1, below) used in this study, were several 20.32 x 27.94cm size pages with small pictures. Each page consisted of from 15 to 20 pictures in color, or black and white. Multiple pages of previously identified non-preferred stimuli were used for the conditioning procedure. That is, the pictures used on each page consisted of pictures that were not reinforcing for the participant to look at. They consisted of pictures of animals, places, action based activities (e.g. a picture of a mom reading a book to her child, a picture of a child making a sand castle, a picture of a mom cooking with her child), symbols, letters, shapes, stickers, various patterns, utensils, and flowers. All of these pages were either laminated or enclosed in plastic covers to preserve the original condition of the pages.

Dependent Variables

The dependent variables in the study were; 1) each participant's mean-learn-units-to criteria in the acquisition of match-to-sample instruction to access their rates of learning, and 2) pre-and post-experimental probes for generalized match-to sample responding (i.e. match brown dog with spotted dog) for Participant B and C only.

Mean-learn-units-to criteria consisted of the numbers of instructional trials it took each participant to achieve instructional objectives for match-to-sample instruction. All instructional sessions were 20-learn units. Each participant's mean-learn-units-to criteria were calculated by adding a total of a 1000 learn units across their match-to-sample programs (e.g. matching shapes, letters, colors, non-identical pictures) and then divided by the total number of criteria the participant's received within these programs. The preconditioned reinforcement intervention measure was the 1,000 learn units received by the participant immediately before (pre-measure of learning rate) and another 1000 learn units constituted the post-intervention measure of learning rate across match-to-sample programs. For example if participant A achieved six criteria across all of the match-to-sample programs, we then divided the number of learn units by the total number of criterion met (1000/6) to obtain her mean-learn-units-to criteria (166). See Table 2 for a list of matching programs that were included for each participant.


Prior to and following the conditioning procedure, Participants B and C were only tested for the possible emergence of generalized matching which was defined as the participants accurately matching untaught novel stimuli (e.g. Collie to Golden Retriever) when the non-correct foil did not belong to the category (e.g. a picture of a cat). Data for each pre-and post-test for the generalized match-to-sample programs were collected for one session respectively consisting of 20- probe trials in which the participants were not given feedback on correct and incorrect responses. For example when the participants were presented with abstract category of pictures of dogs such as a Golden retriever with a Schnauzer on flashcards with a foil picture, along wit h the vocal antecedent "Match (picture name, e.g., dog)," the participants were required to match the picture by placing their dog category picture on the corresponding target picture of a different type of dog in front of them. During all of the instruction the target exemplar was presented in a field of two with a non-exemplar (e.g. dog versus cat). If the participant matched a target picture correctly no reinforcement was delivered, the teacher simply marked a plus on the data sheet and moved on to the next picture. If the child matched incorrectly, no consequence occurred either and the experimenter recorded a minus and presented the next set of stimuli.


Pre and Post Stimulus-Stimulus Reinforcement Pairing Probes- In order to determine when the 2D stimuli were conditioned as reinforcers, pre and post-test were conducted following each phase of the stimulus-stimulus reinforcement pairing intervention (described below). The behavior observed during pre-and post-experimental stimulus-stimulus pairing condition consisted of each participant looking at 20.32 x 27.94cm pages of several examples of 15-20 non-preferred 2D stimuli (e.g. printed letters, numbers and pictures). Five different pages were presented one at a time and the instructor timed the duration that the participant looked at each page. These five pages were reserved for all of the probe sessions. A correct response in the form of a plus (+) was recorded if the participant looked at each individual page for 10 consecutive seconds. An incorrect response was recorded as a minus (-) if the participant did not look for 10 consecutive seconds or emitted stereotypy or passivity at any point during the 10-sec interval. There were no consequences delivered. After all five pages were presented individually completing one session in which the instructor totaled the number of correct responses out of five. Criterion was determined as four out of five correct responses or 80% for one session.

Stimulus-Stimulus Reinforcement Pairing Protocol- The independent variable in this experiment was the achievement of conditioned reinforcement for the visual stimuli resulting from the stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure, which was derived from a previously tested protocol (Greer et al., 1985; Nuzzolo-Gomez et al., 2002; Tsai & Greer, 2006). When the stimulus/stimulus pairing procedure, (training sessions) were in effect, all match-to-sample programs for the participants' were suspended. During the stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure, observing responses to non preferred print stimuli (separate pages than those used in the probe conditions described above) on the pages were conditioned for each participant using pairing training and test trials that were not learn units. That is, we began with a 5-sec training and test interval. During the pairing trial, the teacher paired an unconditioned or a conditioned reinforcer (i.e. edible as an unconditioned stimulus and praise as a conditioned stimulus) while requiring the participant to continuously look at the various visual stimuli on the pages for the specified time interval. The experimenter alternated between two and three pairings of the conditioned or unconditioned reinforcer with the child observing the pages across training trials, in which she delivered prosthetic/vocal reinforcers (e.g. "Good job! "Wow! You're looking so nicely at the picture of the bus,"). If the participant stopped looking at the pictures before the target interval was up (i.e. 5-sec), then the timer was stopped and reset for the target time interval and the pairing interval was started over again. If the participant emitted the target behavior during the pairing trial (i.e. looking at the pictures for the entire interval of 5-sec), it was immediately followed by a test trial. During the test trial, the participant was observed for the same interval of time without the delivery of reinforcement or correction from the teacher. If the participant looked at the visual stimuli on the pages for the entire interval, the experimenter recorded a plus (+) and began the next pairing trial. If the participant did not look for the entire interval, the experimenter recorded a minus (-), ceased the test trial and began the next pairing trial.

Once the participants met criterion, which was 19 or 20 correct test trials for two consecutive sessions, on mastery of each time interval objective in the train and test conditions (i.e., 5-sec-criterion, 10-sec criterion) using the stimulus/stimulus pairing procedure, we conducted post-train and test probes on the duration that they looked at non-preferred stimuli as described above. If the participant did not meet the 80% criterion or get four out five correct pages for looking at the non preferred stimuli on the pages, then the conditioning procedure for looking at stimuli on a page was increased or graduated by an additional 5-sec. (10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 seconds) respectively. It was not until the participants met criterion on observing 2D stimuli during the post stimulus-stimulus pairing probes did the experimenters return to baseline conditions and collect data on the dependent variables.

Data Collection

Correct and incorrect responses for all sessions in the study were recorded with a pencil on a data form. A correct response was recorded as a plus (+), and an incorrect response was recorded as a minus (-). The data were compared for all matching programs pre-and post- stimulus-stimulus pairing using the learn unit to criteria ratio as described above. For the probes for conditioning 2D stimuli on a page, the data were recorded and graphed as the numbers of correct responses out of five probe trials as described above. For the test of generalization match-to-sample for Participant B and C, the data consisted of correct responses to 20-probe trial sessions before and after the conditioning intervention.

Data for the conditioning procedure consisted of the number of correct responses to stimulus-stimulus pairing test trials. The sessions consisted of correct responses to 20 pair and test trials as described above.

Interobserver Agreement

Interobserver agreement was assessed by an independent observer simultaneously but independently collecting data on 46% of the probe and instructional sessions across all participants. Interobserver agreement was calculated for each of the sessions by dividing the total numbers of agreement for the participants' responses to learn units, pair and test trials, and probe trials by the number of agreements plus disagreements and multiplying by 100 for all participants' responses. The agreement on procedural integrity for the probe trials and learn unit sessions (i.e. accuracy of probe and learn unit presentations was 100%). Interscorer agreement for procedural integrity was 100% across observers.


We used a time lagged multiple probe design across participants (Horner & Baer 1978). Probes were time lagged across participants to control for maturation and instruction similarly done in a multiple baseline between participants design. All pre-experimental probes were staggered across each participant. The independent variable was implemented for the first participant following the pre-experimental probes. The conditioning intervention was only implemented for the second participant once a higher level of responding was demonstrated for the first participant. Similarly, the conditioning intervention was only implemented for the third participant after the second participant showed a higher level of responding. The sequence of the design was as follows; 1) data collection on the participants' learn units to criteria for the acquisition of visual match-to-sample programs pre-conditioning and pre-experimental probes for the acquisition of generalized matching for Participants B and C only, 2) Pre-conditioning probes for the set of five pages with the non-preferred 2D visual stimuli followed by the conditioning intervention (staggered). 3) Following criterion on the conditioning intervention as demonstrated by conditioning probes, we repeated all pre-conditioning measures for each participant.


Figure 2 shows that Participant A required 523 mean-learn-units-to criteria for mastery on matching programs prior to the intervention. Following the intervention, the mean-learn-units-to criteria decreased to 77 across the matching programs. Participant B required a mean of 364 mean-learn-units-to criteria for mastery on matching programs prior to the intervention. Following the intervention, his mean-learn-units-to criteria decreased to 102. Participant C required 1000 mean-learn-units-to criteria for mastery on matching programs. Following the intervention, the mean-learn-units-to criteria decreased to 110.

Figure 3 shows the correct number of responses emitted by the participants to the probes conducted for looking at non-preferred stimuli on a page. Participant A in the pre-probe session emitted 0 out of 5 correct responses for looking at the pages with the non-preferred visual stimuli. In the post probe phase, the participant emitted 100% correct responses for looking at all of the pages. In addition, Participant B did not emit any correct responses during the pre-intervention probe session for the pages with the non-preferred stimuli. However following the conditionin g procedure, he emitted 80% correct responses for the pages. Participant C had no correct responses for the 5-page probes during the pre-experimental probe session. Following the first interval objective (5-sec pair and test trial in the stimulus-stimulus pairing phase), he emitted only 40% correct responses. Following the second time interval objective of 10-sec for the pair and test trials, he emitted 80 % correct page responses.

Figure 4 shows probes that were only conducted for participants B and C for matching abstract category pictures (generalized matching). During the pre-experimental intervention or the generalized match-to-sample trials, participant B emitted 3 correct responses and participant C emitted 2 correct responses out of 20 probe trials. Following mastery of the conditioning procedure, Participant B emitted 20 correct responses out of 20 probe trials and Participant C emitted 18 correct responses out of 20 probe trials.




Figure 5 shows the data that were collected for each participant during the stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure using the 2D non-preferred visual stimuli. Participant A met criterion after 13 sessions of the 5-sec pair/test trial. In the initial 5- sec interval phase, the data ranged from 8-15 with a mean of 12.8. Participant B met criterion in the 5-sec pair and test trial phase in seven sessions. Correct responses ranged from 14-18 with a mean of 16.4. Participant C met criterion in fourteen sessions under the 5-sec pair and test trial phase and the data ranged from 2-19 with a mean of 13.2. Following this phase, the post-experimental probes for non-preferred 2D visual stimuli on pages (5 pages) was conducted (Figure 2). However, since the participant did not meet criterion in this phase, stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure was implemented for 10 sec pair and test trial. After this phase, the participant met criterion in six sessions and the data ranged from 10-18 with a mean of 16.


The results of this experiment showed that conditioning visual stimuli as a reinforcer for observing resulted in acquisition of accuracy for match-to-sample programs for all of the participants. Thus, the intervention was effective in decreasing their mean-learn-units-to criteria (i.e. accelerating their rate of learning match-to-sample for visual 2-dimensional stimuli). Generalized matching for abstract category pictures emerged for two of the three participants as shown in figure 3.


The results showed that the protocol used to condition 2D pictures on pages as conditioned reinforcers for observing responses was effective in significantly accelerating acquisition of mastery of match-to-sample instruction for all three participants. Following the conditioning procedure, all of the participants had a decrease in the numbers of learn units required to meet instructional objectives across a variety of matching programs. In addition, participants B and C acquired generalized matching suggesting that print and 2D stimuli had acquired stimulus control for attending responses for both participants. The data suggest that the participants had acquired a developmental cusp in that they could learn discriminations they could not learn prior to the intervention or they could learn them at a significantly faster rate.

For all three participants, the treatment phase resulted in conditioned reinforcement for observing the print stimuli. That is, the consequences looking at print or reinforcement for observing print resulted from the pairing procedure. If the participants met their first time interval objective for attending to the visual stimuli during the pair/test phase but did not meet on the post probes for looking at stimuli on a page, conditioning was continued by increasing the time intervals by 5-seconds until they met on the preset criterion for the post probes. Hence the independent variable was implemented only when the conditioning process proved successful which varied for these participants as has been the case in prior studies. The independent variable was not in place until the conditioning criterion was met.

Former and recent research (Greer 1980; Greer, Dorow, & Randall 1975; Greer et al., 1985 Greer et al., 2002; and Greer et al., 2004) have consistently shown that preference for non-preferred stimuli can be developed by pairing these with unconditioned or conditioned reinforcers (e.g. praise, edibles and tokens) until the non-preferred stimuli becomes preferred. Once the participants acquired conditioned reinforcement for observing, they accelerated their rate of learning discriminations significantly. That is, once the non-preferred visual stimuli had become conditioned reinforcers for observing responses for the target participants the visual stimuli for their instructional programs selected out their attention and facilitated the mastery of curricular instruction devoted to match-to-sample instruction. The data support the effect of the conditioning protocol. According to Vargas (2007), Skinner was observed to comment that "of course, the operant rides on the respondent."

In a related study, conducted by Keohane, Greer, and Ackerman (2005), a visual conditioning procedure was successful in inducing better attending skills for a participant who could not master match-to-sample instruction. Following the conditioning procedure, the data showed dramatic decreases in the participant's mean-learn-units-to criteria across these programs. Their findings are consistent with the findings of the present study.

The evidence suggests that the participants acquired a repertoire for attending to stimuli on pages that was lacking before the intervention. Once the child was attending to the stimuli, relevant discriminations were mastered at significantly faster rates than prior to the intervention. The increased attending or observing was the result of Pavlovian second order conditioning that made the learning of operant discriminations possible. For example, attending to the visual stimuli accrued as a result of the conditioned reinforcement procedure and this, in turn, resulted in accelerated learning of operants or, in some cases, made the learning of operants possible. Thus as Dinsmoor (1985) found, greater observing of and attending to specific stimuli can account for improved operant stimulus control.

One of the limitations of this experiment was subject attrition. We started the study with Participant A late in the year and she had only a few months to graduate, as a result, we did not have the opportunity to probe her for generalized responding. Because of the loss of this measurement for Participant A, our pool of participants for this measure was not as large as it was for the other measures.

Future studies should increase the numbers of participants. In addition, all three participants had exposure to conditioned reinforcement procedures for looking at books as a part of their instruction in expanding their appropriate communities of reinforcers. Thus, it is very possible that observing responses for looking at print stimuli in books may have facilitated the effects of the pairing sessions for conditioning 2-D visual stimuli on pages. In future studies, it may be useful to implement the stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure with children who have had no prior exposure to conditioning books and instructional histories with match-to-sample programs. Future studies should investigate the role of books as conditioned reinforcers on the acquisition of matching print stimuli as a conditioned reinforcer (Tsai & Greer, 2006).

The results of the present study and the related studies suggest that conditioned reinforcement for a range of observing responses may be developmental cusps. That is the procedure, like others described herein and in Greer and Ross (2008) are not teaching interventions as much as they are developmental interventions. That is, the intervention involved a protocol that resulted in the formation of a cusp, conditioned reinforcement for observing responses, and this may be a developmental cusp, that once acquired, allows a child to learn when they could not learn before. These and other findings suggest new potentials for the science of behavior to provide a means to induce developmental cusps. These cusps, in turn, not only make new learning possible but introduce the potential to bring about still more advanced developmental cusps (Greer and Ross, 2008).


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Author Contact Information

Jo Ann Pereira Delgado

91 Roseland Avenue

Unit A8

Caldwell, NJ 07006


R. Douglas Greer

Columbia University Teachers College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Box 76 Teachers College Columbia University

New York, NY 10027

JeanneMarie Speckman

Fred S. Keller School

1 Odell Plaza

Yonkers, NY-10701


Ananya Goswami

Columbia University Teachers College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Box 76 Teachers College Columbia University

New York, NY 10027

Table 2. Matching Curricular Instruction Programs in Place
Pre-and Post-Conditioning Visual 2-D Print Stimuli on Pages.

Participant   Pre-Conditioning     Post-Conditioning

A             Matching shapes      Matching shapes
              Matching colors      Matching colors
              Matching uppercase   Matching uppercase
                letters              letters
              Matching numbers     Matching numbers

B             Matching shapes      Matching shapes,
              Matching colors      Matching colors
              Matching uppercase   Matching uppercase
                letters              letters
              Matching pictures    Matching pictures

C             Matching shapes      Matching shapes,
              Matching numbers     Matching numbers
              Matching colors      Matching colors
              Matching uppercase   Matching uppercase
                letters              letters
              Matching pictures    Matching pictures
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Article Details
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Author:Delgado, Jo Ann Pereira; Greer, R. Douglas; Speckman, JeanneMarie; Goswami, Ananya
Publication:The Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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