Establishing conditioned reinforcers in individuals with developmental disabilities: comparison of the stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure and the discriminative control procedure
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Individuals with developmental disabilities may be sensitive to a limited number of conditioned reinforcers. Therefore, the development of effective procedures to establish conditioned reinforcers in this population is of major practical importance. However, therapeutic procedures targeting the acquisition of novel conditioned reinforcers have not been extensively evaluated in the applied literature. Stimulus-stimulus pairing, a procedure consistent with a Pavlovian conditioning paradigm, has demonstrated inconsistent results. A second alternative suggests that stimuli may be conditioned as reinforcers due to their role as discriminative stimuli during operant responding. In Experiment 1, I evaluated the level of conditioned reinforcement produced by these two methods. For four of the five participants of Experiment 1, both procedures induced levels of responding above the baseline range. However, the effects were often variable and delayed. Only one participant showed differentiated levels of responding across procedures. Experiment 1 did not explore the mechanisms involved in conditioned reinforcement. Therefore, in Experiment 2 I examined the effects of satiating the primary (unconditional) reinforcers, which could reveal the learning principle involved. Experiment 2 also demonstrated the acquisition of conditioned reinforcers through both procedures. However, the satiation manipulation did not significantly change the levels of operant responding established through conditioned reinforcement, which would be consistent with a Pavlovian hypothesis.