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This journal article describes a follow-on research effort to the 1997 study, providing further scientific basis for the attentional skills assessment technology developed by BA&T (View full text version).


Reducing Overselective Attention to Compound Visual Cues with Extended Training in Adolescents with Severe Mental Retardation

Nancy H. Huguenin
Behavior Analysis & Technology, Inc.
Research in Developmental Disabilities, 21, 93-113 (2000)


Because of the devastating impact a disturbance in responding to multiple cues can have on a child‘s development, this investigation determined whether computer touch-screen technology could be utilized to improve the attentional skills of students with severe developmental disabilities after attentional deficits were initially identified. In particular, we assessed whether establishing prior reinforcement histories for separate stimuli would control how adolescents with severe mental retardation attended to visual compounds when extended training was given. Initially, prior reinforcement contingencies of individual stimuli failed to control the attention of the adolescents (Huguenin, 1997). Longer single stimulus pretraining and additional exposure to compounds containing stimulus components with conflicting reinforcement histories, however, eventually proved effective in determining what aspects of complex visual cues they attended to. In most instances, the adolescents selectively responded to stimulus elements whose prior reinforcement histories were unchanged in the compound after additional training was administered. Stimulus elements with a reversed prior reinforcement contingency were usually ignored. The reliability of the effect of prior reinforcement histories of individual stimulus elements on attention to visual compounds following additional training was confirmed with multiple testing procedures, automatically administered by a computer. Even though presenting conflict compounds initially identified students with overselective attention, extended exposure to single stimulus training and conflict compounds alleviated stimulus overselectivity and improved their attentional skills. After individual stimulus-response relations were reestablished and sufficiently reinforced to reduce disrupting effects when compound training cues were presented, stimulus overselectivity was eliminated. Through longer single stimulus pretraining and additional exposure to training compounds, adolescents with severe mental retardation learned to selectively attend to each component of visual compounds when prior reinforcement histories associated with the individual stimulus elements were manipulated. The findings of this investigation indicated that overselective attention among students with developmental disabilities is not an unmodifiable perceptual characteristic. They also revealed that overselective attention may be due to the disrupting effects of compound training cues which can be minimized through longer single stimulus pretraining and repeated presentations of compound training cues. Utilizing computer technology to administer procedures similar to those described in this study may permit students with developmental disabilities to acquire essential attentional skills for learning educational tasks involving complex cues.

A full-text version of the paper is also available (View full text version). If you have any questions about the work, feel free to contact us (use the button on the left). Press Continue to view a third featured article that forms additional scientific basis for the attentional skills assessment technology.