My interest in behavior analytic research started at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire where I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Kevin Klatt in an on-campus clinic for children with autism. These experiences gave me a firm foundation for the rest of my academic career. As a graduate student at Southern Illinois University and the University of Kansas, I was able to refine my research skills and take an interest in a larger variety of research topics while collaborating with my advisors Dr. Anthony Cuvo (SIU) and Dr. Claudia Dozier (KU). Following graduation with my doctorate, I have been able to continue research projects in my teaching positions and have further refined my supervision skills by working with undergraduate and graduate students on various projects. My research interests are in the application of behavior analytic principles to applied problems in young children with and without intellectual disabilities and bridge studies that allow for an evaluation of the effects of different variables on reinforcer efficacy, choice behavior, and skill acquisition. Below is a summary of my current research interests and some projects that have spawned from those interests.
Early-Childhood Education. One of my primary research interests is in variables affecting skill acquisition in young children with and without intellectual disabilities. While at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire I conducted a study comparing the effects of different prompting procedures (i.e., simultaneous and constant-delay prompting) on the skill acquisition of seven children with autism. We found that, for all seven participants, there was not a difference in speed of acquisition; however, there were fewer errors in the simultaneous condition. While working at the University of Kansas, I have conducted several studies related to the acquisition of sight-word reading. One study compared the effects of modeling and error correction for teaching sight-word reading to two typically developing preschool-aged children. For one participant, we found that (a) simply modeling the correct response one time or (b) providing error correction for incorrect responding was effective for increasing correct sight-word reading. Further manipulation suggested that error correction was most effective when it was implemented for incorrect responding as compared to a general feedback condition. For the second participant, we found that modeling the correct response one time was not effective; however, (a) modeling prior to every session or (b) providing a single model and implementing error correction was effective for increasing sight-word reading. Further manipulation suggested that when the number of exposures to the correct response was controlled, providing a model prior to every session was more effective than a condition involving multiple trials of error correction. Another study evaluated the mechanism that may account for the effectiveness of interspersed-trial teaching on acquisition of sight words. The purpose of the study was to evaluate young children's acquisition of sight words under various conditions that included combinations of high or low stimulus variation and reinforcement density. In addition, we assessed child preference for the different conditions. For all three participants, we found that all conditions were effective at teaching sight words. For two participants, the combination of high stimulus variation and high density of reinforcement was most effective and most preferred. For one participant, the condition using high stimulus variation was most effective, and the condition using low stimulus variation was most preferred. In the future I would like to continue to evaluate teaching procedures and the mechanisms that make them effective.
Reinforcer Efficacy & Choice Behavior. Another of my primary research interests involves variables affecting reinforcer efficacy and choice behavior. One study I conducted evaluated whether increasing response effort would affect the reinforcing efficacy of similarly preferred edible and leisure items. The purpose was to replicate and extend previous research by manipulating schedules of reinforcement for edible and leisure items and evaluate the effects on responding. Our results showed that the relative responding for items remained relatively constant following the effort manipulation. In the future, I would like to evaluate the effects of other effort manipulations (i.e., force and difficulty) on the reinforcing efficacy of edible and leisure items. Another study I worked on evaluated the effects of magnitude of reinforcement (duration of item access) on preference and reinforcer efficacy. Results showed that (a) similar preferences were found across the different magnitudes and (b) higher durations of on-task behavior occurred to access items delivered for a larger magnitude. Currently, I am conducting a study evaluating the prevalence of preference for choice in typically developing children. Past research has shown that choice is a reinforcer for some children, but the prevalence of this preference has yet to be determined. Following this evaluation, I will attempt to condition choice and no-choice contexts as a reinforcer by manipulating different variables (stimulus variation and magnitude) associated with these contexts.
Attention and Social Interaction as a Reinforcer. During my academic career I have had the privilege of working on various studies evaluating different aspects of attention and social interaction as a reinforcer. While at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, I worked on a study comparing the effects of enthusiastic and unenthusiastic praise on skill acquisition in children with autism. Our results showed similar levels of acquisition across praise conditions. At KU I collaborated on multiple studies evaluating attention as a reinforcer. One study compared the effects of social interaction on on-task behavior. The results showed that, for five of six participants, the highest level of on-task responding was to gain access to social interaction and toys as compared to social interaction or toys alone. Another study I collaborated on looked at preference for and reinforcing efficacy of different types of attention (i.e., praise, physical, and conversation). This study compared the results of a preference assessment to results of two reinforcer assessments, one using a fixed-ratio (FR)1 schedule and the other a progressive ratio (PR) schedule. This study is on-going at this time, but three of my four participants preferred conversation in the preference assessment and subsequently worked more for conversation during the FR1 assessment. Neither of my two participants that completed the PR assessment showed differentiated results during that assessment. In the future I would like to examine the effects of attention as a reinforcer with children with autism and determine procedures for increasing the reinforcing efficacy of attention for this population..
Compliance. While I was studying at SIU, I conducted a study on increasing compliance to medical procedures in children with autism, and worked on a similar study increasing compliance to dental procedures using a treatment package of desensitization, visual schedules, and a video model. The results showed that all our participants (4 in medical; 3 in dental) successfully completed a medical or dental exam following out treatment. In the future, it would be interesting to analyze which components are necessary and sufficient to increase compliance to these procedures.