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  • The Induction of Emergent Relations in Children with Severe Cognitive and Language Delays

    Matthew Howarth

    Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

    under the Executive Committee of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences



  • 2012 Matthew Howarth

    All Rights Reserved


    The Induction of Emergent Relations in Children with Severe Cognitive and Language Delays

    Matthew Howarth

    In three experiments I sought to experimentally test a source of emergent relations

    defined as transitivity by Stimulus Equivalence theory or as combinatorial entailment in

    Relational Frame Theory. In Experiment I, the participants were 4 children diagnosed

    with autism who also demonstrated significant cognitive and language delays, who were

    selected for the experiment because of their inability to demonstrate emergent/derived

    relations during baseline. A time-lagged multiple probe design was utilized to determine

    the effects of training of a frame of symmetry through the use of a cross modal matching

    procedure requiring the participants to match auditory stimuli to visual stimuli and

    conversely visual stimuli to auditory stimuli using a computer program. The dependent

    variables were the participants responses to the emergent relations of

    transitivity/combinatorial entailment, post intervention, with a probe set and a novel set

    of stimuli, as well as the participants rate of learning for tacts and textual responses.

    Three of four participants were able to demonstrate emergent relations following

    intervention. The participant who did not demonstrate derived relations lacked an echoic

    repertoire. In Experiment II, I built on the findings of Experiment I to determine if

    derived relations could be taught visually, without the use of language. Three males with

    severe language disorders, who did not display emergent relations during baseline,

    participated in the experiment. A time-lagged multiple probe design, with

  • counterbalanced probes was used to determine the effects of multiple exemplar training

    across visual relations. The dependent variable was the participants responses to

    emergent relation probes following intervention. None of the participants were able to

    demonstrate derived relations after visual symmetry training. In the third experiment, the

    same participants and materials were used as Experiment II, however, in Experiment III,

    a tact was taught for each of the stimulus sets in order to determine the role of the tact in

    emergent relations. A time lagged multiple probe design, with counterbalanced probes

    was used. The dependent variable was again participants responses to emergent relation

    probes following tact training. All 3 participants were able to demonstrate derived

    relations with the probe and novel set of stimuli following intervention. Results of all

    three experiments suggest that both bi-directional/symmetrical relations and verbal

    operants are necessary for derived relations.

  • i



    LIST OF TABLES........ v





    Abstraction...... 1

    Stimulus Equivalence..... 6

    Naming Theory....... 8

    Relational Frame Theory.... 9

    Verbal Behavior Development Theory. 11

    The role of the tact in emergent relations. 15

    Joint stimulus control 19

    Experiments on the source of emergent relations. 20

    2 EXPERIMENT I... 25


  • ii

    Method.... 27

    Participants...... 27

    Setting..... 30

    Dependent Variable..... 30

    Independent Variable... 35

    Data collection. 39

    Interobserver Agreement. 40

    Results. 40

    Discussion 48

    2 EXPERIMENT II.......... 51

    Overview 51

    Method... 52

    Participants.... 52

    Setting... 54

    Dependent Variable... 54

    Independent Variable.... 58

    Data collection.. 63

  • iii

    Interobserver Agreement. 63

    Results. 63

    Discussion... 68


    Overview 69

    Method... 70

    Participants..... 70

    Setting.... 70

    Independent Variable. 70

    Dependent Variable.... 70

    Data collection 74

    Interobserver Agreement 74

    Results 74

    Discussion.. 81


    Major findings and possible explanations 82

    Limitations... 87

  • iv

    Future research 87

    Conclusion... 88

    6 APPENDIX 102

    Definition of terms.. 102

  • v


    Table Page Number

    1. Participants Characteristics in Experiment I. 28

    2. Examples of Probe Stimuli from Experiment I.. 33

    3. Examples of Novel Stimuli from Experiment I. 34

    4. Independent Variable Sequence in Experiment I... 38

    5. Participant Characteristics in Experiment II... 53

    6. Examples of Probe/Novel Stimuli from Experiment II & III. 56

    7. Examples of Novel/Probe Stimuli from Experiment II & III. 57

    8. Independent Variable Sequence in Experiment II.. 61

    9. Stimulus Set for Experiment III.. 72

    10. Stimulus Set for Experiment III.. 73

  • vi


    Figure Page Number

    1. Illustration of joint stimulus control for a tact. 20

    2. Illustration of Dependent Variable derived relations... 35

    3. Independent Variable in Experiment I, example of matching picture to spoken word.... 39

    4. Independent Variable Experiment I, crossmodal matching acquisition using instructional

    stimuli .................................................................................................. 45

    5. Responses to emergent relation probes pre & post cross modal matching (CM). 46

    6. Participant rate of learning tacts & textual responses pre & post crossmodal matching. 46

    7. Independent Variable example from Experiment II.. 56

    8. Relations trained as part of the independent variable in Experiment II... 58

    9. Independent Variable Experiment II, visual relation training. 66

    10. Emergent relations probes Experiment II.... 67

    11. Independent Variable Experiment III, tact instruction 78

    12. Emergent relations probes Experiment III... 80

  • vii


    First, and without measure, I would like to thank my students, from whom I learned more

    than I ever could have imagined. Whose contributions to the science, and to the lives of others,

    no matter how small, they will never be aware of due to their disabilities. I hope I was able to

    make your lives a little more reinforcing.

    Thank you Dr. Greer and Dr. Dudek for giving me this opportunity, and for imparting so

    much knowledge. You were steadfast in your guidance, sustained me through every challenge,

    and what I have gained from you both is incalculable.

    I want to thank my friends, classmates, and family, who have supported me

    unconditionally throughout this process. This was a long road, both personally and

    professionally, and I couldnt have done it without you.

    I want to thank Elizabeth Sarto, for hours of editing and feedback, your efforts and

    encouragement are much appreciated.

    I also want to thank my teaching assistants and student teachers who assisted with the

    experiments, and cared so much about our students: Nelcy Garcia, Alexandria Lanter, Suzzanna

    Javed, Marisa Bernthal, Matthew Carbone, Emilia Clancy, Missy Liu, Crystal Lo, and Kristen

    Mead. You guys are awesome!

  • 1

    Chapter 1

    Review of the Literature

    It is usually held that one does not see the physical world at all, but only a nonphysical copy of it called experience. When the physical organism is in contact with reality, the experienced copy is called a sensation, sense datum, or percept; when there is no contact, it is called an image, thought, or idea. (Skinner, 1953, p. 276)

    William James is generally acknowledged as the first person to term stream of conscious

    in his work The Principles of Psychology (1890). Consistent with his pragmatic philosophy, he

    maintained that experience gives rise to inner sensation, only as reflection becomes developed

    do we become aware of an inner world at all(James, 1890, p. 679). Skinner furthers this

    distinction in his discussion of private events, where through operant or respondent conditioning

    the process of abstraction gives rise to conditioned seeing and hearing whereby, A man may see

    or hear stimuli which are not present (Skinner, 1953, p 266). Radical behaviorists and

    cognitive-linguistic theorists have approached the role of language in the formation of relations

    or ideas differently, and this is the focus of the following three experiments. Therefore, I shall

    begin with a brief review of the related literature from both a behavioral selection and cognitive-

    linguistic perspective. Due to the specialized lexicon of behavior analysis, a definition of terms

    has been provided in the appendix.


    Definitions of abstraction vary across the research in behavior anal