Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Andrew Samaha, Ph.D.


developmental disabilities, conditioned reinforcement


Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability characterized by social, behavioral, and communicative impairments. A primary characteristic of Autism includes impairment in social skills. Along the same lines, praise, defined as approval or admiration, does not always function as a reinforcer for this population. One way to address the absence of a reinforcement effect for praise is to condition praise as a reinforcer. The literature on conditioned reinforcement encompasses many procedural variations that have been shown to increase the reinforcing value of neutral stimuli. One such variation relatively new to the conditioned reinforcement literature includes observational conditioning. With observational conditioning, initially neutral stimulus are established as reinforcers through observation of others receiving an initially neural stimulus, contingent on some response, while the same neutral stimulus is restricted to the observer for engagement the same response. Few component analyses of observational conditioning procedures have been conducted. Identification of its key aspects and further clarification of its generality will improve understanding of the effect and lead to more reliable clinical endpoints. Given this, and the need for procedures focused on conditioning praise as a reinforcer for individuals with Autism, the purpose of the current proposal was twofold. The purpose of Study 1 was to compare the effects of the observational conditioning procedure to observational conditioning plus response restriction in children diagnosed with Autism. The purpose of Study 2 was to assess the effects of observational conditioning plus response restriction to condition praise as a reinforcer in children diagnosed with Autism.