Reactions to response-contingent and noncontingent stimulation by non-handicapped infants and infants with multiple learning difficulties

O'Brien, Yvonne (1990) Reactions to response-contingent and noncontingent stimulation by non-handicapped infants and infants with multiple learning difficulties. Doctoral thesis, Lancashire Polytechnic.

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The primary aim of this investigation was to examine the effects of response-contingent and noncontingent stimulation on responding, motivation, and affect in three-four month old non-handicapped infants and severely/profoundly learning disabled and multiply impaired infants and children. Three experiments were conducted on non-handicapped infants in order to develop a reliable experimental paradigm, in which computer-controlled equipment delivered visuo-auditory stimulation contingent upon a leg kick. Certain methodological variations in previous studies were also assessed. Over three experiments it was found that a) setting (home versus lab) has no effect on infant responding, motivation, and affect, b)
tactile feedback increases sensori-motor stage 3 responding, and c) infants given contingent-noncontingent or noncontingent-contingent situations learn to respond contingently and show increased positive affect when contingency is experienced first. Subsequent noncontingent stimulation results in a decrease in. responding and reduced positive affect. Initial noncontingent stimulatior produces an increase in responding (which eventually decreases), reduces affect, and delays subsequent learning. It is argued that infants develop expectancies concerning previous contingent or noncontingent experiences, and violation of either will be perceivad as unpleasant by infants. It is also suggested that in new situations
infants may be engaging in a form of hypothesis testing.
Two studies were also conducted on learning disabled children. A pilot study confined the feasibility of using the above paradigm with these children. The experimental group consisted of four children; three showed evidence for detecting the contingency, and decreased responding in the noncontingent session. Affective and motivational responsps were variable. Seif-stimulatory behaviour in two children increased during the noncontingent session. From the results of this investigation it is suggested that intervention attempts should emphasize a cognitive interpretation of contingency responding. Manipulating previously learned contingencies may have adverse effects on feelings of causal efficacy in learning disabled
children. Research using certain operant designs is therefore questioned.

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