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Child development in behavior analytic theory has origins in John B. Watson’s behaviorism.[1] Watson wrote extensively on child development and conducted research (see Little Albert experiment). Watson was instrumental in the modification of William James’ stream of consciousness approach to construct a stream of behavior theory.[2] Watson also helped bring a natural science perspective to child psychology by introducing objective research methods based on observable and measurable behavior. Following Watson’s lead, B.F. Skinner further extended this model to cover operant conditioning and verbal behavior. In doing this, Skinner's radical behaviorism focused the science on private events such as thinking and feeling and how they are shaped by interacting with the environment.[3][4] Bijou (1955) was the first to bring this approach to human children.[5][6][7]


In the 1960s, while at the University of Kansas in the home economics/family life department[8],Sidney Bijou and Donald Baer began to apply behavior analytic principles to child development in an area referred to as "Behavioral Development" or "Behavior Analysis of Child Development".[9] Skinner’s behavioral approach and Kantor’s interbehavioral approach was adopted in Bijou and Bear’s model. Bijou and Baer created a three-stage model of development (e.g., basic, foundational, and societal). In behavior analysis, the stages are neither essential nor explanatory.[10] They posit that these stages are socially determined, although behavior analysts tend to focus much more on change points or cusps rather than stages.[11] While not all cusps result in a stage change, all stage changes do involve cusps.[12] In the behavioral model, development is represented as behavior change and is dependent on a combination of factors including the level/kind of stimulation, behavioral function, and the learning/genetic history of the organism.[13] This model is closer to Skinner’s model than Watson's[14] in that it rejects the idea of a purely passive organism.[15] Behavior analysis in child development is between mechanistic[16] and contextual, pragmatic approaches.[17][18]

From its inception, the behavioral model has been focused on prediction and control of the developmental process.[19] [20] The model focuses on analysis of a behavior and then attempts to prove the analysis by synthesizing the behavior.[21] The model was greatly enhanced by basic research on the matching law of choice behavior developed by Richard J. Herrnstein, especially in the study of reinforcement in the natural environment as related to antisocial behavior. As the behavioral model has become increasingly more complex and focused on metatheory,[22] it has become concerned with how behavior is selected over time and forms into stable patterns of responding.[23][24] A detailed history of this model was written by Pelaez.[25] In 1995, Henry D. Schlinger, Jr. provided the first behavior analytic text since Bijou and Baer comprehensively showing how behavior analysis-a natural science approach to human behavior-can be used to understand existing research in child development.[26] In addition, the Quantitative Behavioral Developmental Model by Commons and Miller is the first behavioral theory and research to address notion similar to stage.[27]

Research methods

The nature of the measurements is of critical importance to behavior analysts studying child development. The measurement categories can be and often are narrow such as smiling or out of seat[28] or broad response classes. The choice of issue to be studied has implications for both interval consistency and temporal stability of the measure. Gerwirtz (1969) discussed that behaviors composing "trait" should show internal consistency, temporal stability, and even situational consistency but only internal consistency would be expected for a behavior which is part of a response class.[29] In addition, response characteristics can also be the basis for a scoring system. For example, Goetz and Baer (1973) were assessing the uniqueness of children's block play.[30] The children in the study used quite different building strategies (1) generating few, highly elaborate constructions (2) many simple construction strategies or (3) a mixture of (1) and (2). Thus a summary response score needed to be created weighing the number of responses, complexity, and uniqueness. This summary score was needed even though uniqueness was the primary focus of the study.

Behavior analytic models of child development use multiple research methods to adequately answer the posed research question. Graphical representation of data is considered crucial [31]. Single-subject research remains the hallmark of the approach with a longitudinal study follow up. Current research is focused on integrating Single subject designs through meta-analysis to determine the effect sizes of behavioral factors in development. Lag sequential analysis has become popular for tracking the stream of behavior during observations. Increasingly groups designs have also been employed. Model construction research involves latent growth modeling to determine developmental trajectories and structural equation modeling, which determines the probabilities of venturing down specific paths.

One issue in methodology that was particularly important discovery was the use of observational methods combined with lag sequential analysis to determine reinforcement in the natural setting.[32]


Contingencies, uncertainty, and attachment

An infant is born helpless into an uncertain world, and from its earliest moments, must rely on its parents for many types of reinforcers such as heat, food, water and protection. The behavioral model of attachment recognizes the role of uncertainty and that infants have a limited repertoire for communicating its needs. Actions which produce responding on the parents’ part are highly valued. Because of this, contingent relationships are at the very heart of behavior analytic theory.[33][34][35] The importance of contingency appears to be highlighted in other developmental theories;[36] however, many traditional developmental psychologists fail to recognize that contingency needs to be determined by two factors.[37] These factors are not just the efficiency of the action but the efficiency of the act compared to all other acts that the infant may perform at that point. By learning these contingent relationships, infants and adults are able to function within their environment. In fact, research has shown that contingent relationships lead to more emotionally satisfying relationships.[38] As early as the 1960s, behavioral research showed that parental responsiveness toward the infant on separation predicted identified outcomes in the "stranger situation" and modified versions of this preparation.[39] In one study, six 8-10 month old infants participated in four test conditions. The study was a classic reversal design (see single-subject research) and assessed infant approach rate to a stranger. If attention was based on stranger avoidance, the infant avoided the stranger. If attention was placed on infant approach, the infant approached the stranger.[40]

Recent meta-analytic studies of this model of attachment based on contingency found a moderate effect size, which increased to a large effect size when the quality of reinforcement was considered.[41] Recent research on contingencies highlights the matching quality[42] and places it in the dyadic context.[43] In addition, such studies have shown that contingencies can affect the development of both pro-social and antisocial behavior.[44][45][46][47] Training parents to become sensitive to the function of children's behavior and to respond behaviorally has resulted in a large effect size.[48] Thus, attachment problems seem to be related to parents inadvertently reinforcing children to protest on separation.[49]. Meta-analyic research supports the notion that attachment is operant based learning [50]

An infant’s sensitivity to contingencies can be affected by biological factors. This, in conjunction with being placed in erratic environments which contain few contingencies, can set the child up to have conduct problems, and lack of contingencies in the environment can lead to depression (see Behavioral Development and Depression below).[51][52] Research continues to look at the effects of learning-based attachment on moral development, and has found that erratic use of contingencies by parents early in life can produce devastating effects later for the child.[53][54]

Motor development

Behavior analysts have held since the days of Watson that motor development represents a conditioning process. The argument is that crawling, climbing, and even the walking displayed by all typical infants represents conditioning of biologically pre-programmed reflexes. In this view, the nature end is represented by the innate respondent behavior (stepping) and these reflexes are environmentally conditioned through experience and practice. This position was critiqued by maturation theorists. On criticism was that the stepping reflex for infants appeared to disappear and thus was not "continuous." While working from a slightly different theoretical model but using operant conditioning and opportunity to respond techniques, Esther Thelen was able to show that children's stepping reflex disappears as a function of increased physical weight but if infants are placed in water, it returns.[55][56]This offered a plausible model for the continuity of the stepping reflex and thus the progressive stimulation model of the behavior analysts.

Indeed, infants deprived of physical stimulation or the opportunity to respond were found to have delayed motor development.[57][58] Under conditions of extra stimulation the motor behavior of these children rapidly improved.[59] One area of research has shown that treadmilling can be beneficial to children with motor delays including Down syndrome and cerebral palsy[60] Research on opportunity to respond and the building of motor development continues today.[61][62][63]

The behavioral development model of motor activity has produced a number of techniques including operant based biofeedback to facilitate development with success. Some of the stimulation methods such as operant based biofeedback have been applied as treatment to children with cerebral palsy and even spinal injury successfully.[64][65][66][67] Brucker's group demonstrated that specific operant conditioning based biofeedback procedures can be effective in establishing more efficient use of remaining and surviving central nervous system cells after injury or after birth complications as in cerebral palsy.[68][69] While such methods are not a cure and gains tend to be in the moderate range, they do show ability to enhance funcitoning.[70]

Imitation and verbal behavior

As early as the 1920’s, behaviorists were studying verbal behavior.[71][72][73] Esper (1920) studied associative models of language,[74] which has evolved into the current language interventions of matrix training and recombinative generalization.[75][76] A comprehensive taxonomy of language for speakers was laid down by Skinner (1957)[77] and for the listener Zettle and Hayes (1989) with Don Baer providing a developmental analysis of rule governed behavior[78]. Language learning according to Skinner (1957) depended on environmental variables, which are mastered by an active child through imitation (echoic behavior), practice, and selective reinforcement including automatic reinforcement.

B.F. Skinner was one of the first psychologists to take the role of imitation in verbal behavior as a serious mechanism for acquisition.[79] [80] He identified the echoic as one of his basic verbal operants and postulated that verbal behavior was learned by an infant from a verbal community. Skinner's account takes verbal behavior beyond an intraindivdual process to an interindividual process of particular interest is that he even defined verbal behavior as "behavior reinforced through the mediation of others[81]Skinner’s book was replied to by Noam Chomsky.[82] Initial behavioral replies were late but included comments on Chomsky’s lack of understanding of behaviorism and the concept of the response class[83] (2) comprehensive reviews of the science and what still needs to be demonstrated[84] (3) historical and linguistic looks at the debate to place it in context[85] and (4) philosophy of science discussions for clarifying the differences.[86] Myths have developed around behaviorism, for example suggesting behaviorism rejects biology, even a cursory read of Skinner (1981)[87] shows that not to be the case. Four typical linguistic arguments all seem not to be valid (1) the poverty of the stimulus (2) negative feedback is negligible and (3) input does not predict later output. Much of the research exposing these myths was reviewed in Moerk (1996) and readers are referred to that paper.[88]

Research has presented a compelling case that environmental factors are important in the acquisition of verbal behavior.[89][90] Observational learning plays a particularly important role in language learning.[91][92] Research seems to support the notion that imitation is progressive[93]In general research supports the three term contingency patterns suggested by behavior analysts[94] In addition, reinforcement appears to have a role.[95] Meta analysis has shown that there even seems to be a large role for corrections.[96][97] Meork (1994) conducted a meta-analysis of 40 studies and found substantial evidence that corrections played a role. From this work, corrections are not only abundant but contingent on the mistakes of the child.[98]

In the behavioral model, the child is prepared to contact the contingencies for "joining" the listener and speaker.[99] At the very core, verbal episodes involve rotation of speaker and listener exchanges between individuals and even within the same person<.[100][101] These exchanges what has been termed the conversational units[102] and have been the focus of considerable research at Columbia's communication disorders department.

Conversational units may be one of the strongest measures of socialization in that they consists of verbal interactions in which each party in a turn-taking exchange is reinforced as both speaker and listener.[103] Chu (1998) demonstrated contextual conditions for inducing and expanding conversational units between children with autism and non-handicapped siblings in two separate experiments.[104] The acquisition of conversational units and the expansion of verbal behavior decrease incidences of physical “ aggression” in the Chu study[105] and several other reviews suggest similar effects.[106][107][108] The joining of the listener and speaker progresses from listener speaker rotations with others as a likely precedent for the three major components of speaker-as-own listener—say so correspondence, self-talk conversational units, and naming.[109] Moerk laid down the basis of opernat response to common linguist criticisms of the behavioral view [110]

Development of self

Robert Kohelenberg and Mavis Tsai proposed a behavior analytic model to account for the development of the "self".[111] In their model, the self develops as a product of reinforcement of verbal behavior in three stages. In the first stage the child receives reinforcement for statements such as "I am hot", "I am hungry" etc. Through the process of abstracting (higher order stimulus control), the statement "I am" emerges. Through the reinforcement on many statements such as "I am", "I feel", and "I think" gradually, the "I" abstracts out. This model has not received much research attention; however, it does explain various forms of psychopathology with difficulties in the emerging "self" such as insecurity, narcissistic personality disorders, borderline personality disorders, etc. It holds that they forms of pathology come from frequent invalidations of the above defined statements so that the "I" does not emerge.

The above model has created a unique treatment called Functional Analytic Psychotherapy for such disorders.

Other behavior analytic models for personality disorders exist.[112] They trace out the complex biological-environmental interaction for the development of avoidant and borderline personality disorders. They focus on Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory, which states that some individuals are more or less sensitive to reinforcement then others. Nelson-Grey views problematic response classes as being maintained by reinforcing consequences or through rule governance.


Studies in this area have focused on the extended pattern of using rewards for behavior over time. The model focuses on two levels: micro- and macro-analysis. The ‘’micro-analysis‘’ level focuses on moment-to-moment interactions while a ‘’macro-analysis‘’ does so with parenting variables. Over the last few decades, longitudinal studies have supported the idea that contingent use of reinforcement and punishment over extended periods of time lead to the development of prosocial,[113] as well as antisocial behavior.[114][115] Midlarsky and colleagues (1973) used a combination of modeling and reinforcement to build altruistic behavior.[116] At least two studies exist in which modeling by itself did not increase prosocial behavior;[117][118] however, modeling is much more effective than instruction-giving such as "preaching."[119][120] The role of rewards has been implicated in the building of self-control[121] and empathy.[122][123][124]Cooperation seems particularly susceptible to rewards.[125][126][127][128] Sharing is another prosocial behavior influenced by reinforcement.[129][130] Reinforcement is particularly effective, at least early in the learning series, if context conditions are similar.[131] Evidence exists to show some generalization.[132] While reinforcement is generally accepted, the role of punishment has been more controversial.

An interesting batch of studies exist in the research on the role of punishment. One study found that donation rates of children could be increased by punishing episodes of failure to donate.[133]

The socialization process continues by teachers and by peers with reinforcement and punishment playing major roles. Peers are more likely to punish cross gender play and reinforce play specific to gender.[134][135][136] In the school older studies found that teachers were more likely to reinforce dependent behavior in females.[137] Such patterns have been found to contribute to gender differences at least in the short run.[138]

Behavioral principles have also been researched in emerging peer groups with focus on status.[139] Such research has found that neglected boys are the least interactive and aversive, yet remain relatively unknown in groups. In addition, this research suggests that it takes different social skills to enter groups than to maintain or build status in groups. Other research has found that withdrawn behavior can be decreased with a corresponding increase in social interactions for children.[140]

In short, children have been shown to imitate peers. One study reported on average 13 imitative acts/child/hour.[141] In addition, peers frequently reinforce each other’s behavior [142][143] Among the aspects of social development responsive to peer reinforcement are sex-typed behavior,[144][145] modes of initiating interaction[146] and aggression.[147] This lead to comprehensive behavioral models for moral and social behavior.

Recent efforts by Pelaez-Nogueras & Gewirtz (1995)[148] are of interest in the generation of a comprehensive behavioral development model of moral and social behavior. Their behavior-analytical approach to a comprehensive model highlights how the basic behavioral processes are thought to be involved in the acquisition and maintenance of early moral behavior patterns. Their analysis emphasizes that what has been termed “moral” behavior of an individual is ultimately the result of a history of socio-environmental contingencies affected by the consequences of that individual’s behavior. They illustrated how the operant-learning paradigm, with its emphasis on action and extrinsic stimuli, can account for much moral behavior as an outcome of conditioning processes. In this analysis, various processes are proposed for pre- and post-language acquisition individuals, taking into account behaviors that are public or private, non-verbal or verbal, and that may denote altruism, empathy, self-sacrifice, sharing, caring, conscience, justice, loyalty, or virtue. In this conceptual work, they noted the distinction between direct contingency-shaped behavior and rule-governed behavior in which moral behavior is seen initially as under the control of nonverbal direct contingencies in pre-linguistic children. Later, with advances in the child’s language skills, much of that behavior is seen as coming under the control of verbal explicit rules (including both those that are self-formulated and those provided by others). This behavior analytic approach details the features of the operant-learning paradigm efficiently to explain the very same phenomena in the moral realm; that behavioral, cognitive, and mental theories have targeted at the same time that it attempts to fill in details that cognitive-developmental postulates seem to require. Moreover, this work offered a basic behavior analytic explanation of moral phenomena not previously analyzed. They emphasized behavioral outcomes as well as antecedent and concurrent verbalizations of those behaviors (including verbal reasoning and moral judgment that have been the study matter of cognitive-developmental theories); the model may provide some leads on how to deal with overt actions in the moral realm.

Children with social problems do appear to benefit from behavior therapy and behavior modification based on behavior analytic principles (see Applied Behavior Analysis). For example, modeling has been used to increase participation by shy and withdrawn children.[149] One of the strongest effects seems to be shaping of socially desirable behavior through positive reinforcement[150]

Antisocial behavior

In the development of antisocial behavior, etiological models for antisocial behavior show considerable correlation with negative reinforcement and response matching (see matching law).[151][152][153] Such models have consistently found a role for escape conditioning through the use of coercive behavior as having a powerful effect on the development and use of future antisocial tactics. From this view, antisocial behavior can be seen as functional for the child in moment to moment interactions. The rate of pro-social tactics used to antisocial tactics used during conflicts is directly proportional to the payoff.[154] This model explains 76% of the variance in child's chosen tactics and over 56% of the variance in the parents chosen tactics. Finally, the tactic payoff model was replicated and shown to predict arrest rates two years later.[155] For a complete review see (Synder (2002).[156] Interventions based on this model are developing as enhancements to the typical behavioral parent training model[157]

The role of stimulus control has also been extensively explored in the development of antisocial behavior[158] Using lag sequential analysis; researchers have been able to describe the immediate impact of one person's behavior on another in the family. Such patterns showed that overlearning was so rampant that the behavior was automatic and cognitive awareness was neither necessary nor sufficient to explain the interactions[159][160]

Recent behavioral focus in the study of antisocial behavior has been a focus on rule governed behavior. While correspondence for saying and doing has long been an interest for behavior analysts in normal development and typical socialization,[161][162][163] recent conceptualizations have been built around families that actively train children in antisocial rules[164] as well as children who fail to develop rule control[165]

Developmental depression with origins in childhood

Behavioral theory of depression was outlined by Charles Ferster.[166] A later revision was provided by Peter Lewisohn and Hyman Hops. Hops continued the work on the role of negative reinforcement in maintaining depression with Anthony Biglan.[167][168][169][170] Additional factors such as the role of loss of contingent relations through extinction and punishment were taken from early work of Martin Seligman. The most recent summary and conceptual revisions of the behavioral model was provided by Johnathan Kanter.[171] The standard model is that depression has multiple paths to develop. It can be generated by five basic processes, including: lack or loss of positive reinforcement,[172] direct positive or negative reinforcement for depressive behavior, lack of rule-governed behavior or too much rule governed behavior, and/or to much environmental punishment. For children, some of these variables could set the pattern for lifelong problems. For example, a child whose depressive behavior functions for negative reinforcement by stopping fighting between parents could develop a lifelong pattern of depressive behavior in the case of conflicts. Two paths that are particularly important are (1) lack or loss of reinforcement because of missing necessary skills at a developmental cusp point or (2) the failure to develop adequate rule governed behavior. For the latter, the child could develop a pattern of always choosing the short term small immediate reward (i.e., escaping studying for a test) at the expense of the long term larger reward (failing courses in middle school). The treatment approach that emerged from this research is called Behavioral activation.

In addition, use of positive reinforcement has been shown to improve symptoms of depression in children[173] In addition, reinforcement has been shown to improve self concept in children with depression comorbid with learning difficulties[174]. Rawson and Tabb (1993) used reinforcement with 99 students (90 males and 9 females) ages from 8 to 12 years old with behavior disorders in a residential treatment program and showed significant reduction in depression symptoms compared to the control group.

Cognitive behavior

As children get older, direct control of contingencies is modified by the presence of rule governed behavior[175] Rules serve as an establishing operation and set a motivational stage as well as a discrimintative stage for behavior[176]While the size of the effects on intellectual development are less clear, it appears that stimulation does have a facilitative effect on intellectual ability.[177] However, it is important to be sure not to confuse the enhancing effect with the initial causal effect.[178] Some data exists to show that children with developmental delays take more learning trials to acquire in material[179]

Learned units and developmental retardation

Behavior analysts have spent considerable time measuring learning in the classroom and in the home. During the course of this work, they have often presented evidence of the role of lack of stimulation in the development of mild and moderate mental retardardation.[180] Recent work has been on a model of "developmental retardation".[181] Often research in this area looks at cumulative environmental effects and how they create developmental delays. The opportunity to respond is defined as an instructional antecedent and its success in getting the appropriate response, sometimes fluency is used to measure this.[182] The learned unit is defined as the opportunity to respond plus reinforcement[183]

In one study using this model, students' time of instruction was compared in affluent schools to poorer schools. Actual amount of instruction received revealed that poorer school lost on average about 15 minutes/day in instruction due to issues of classroom management and behavior management issues. This compiled to 2 years worth of lost instructional time by the 10th grade.[184] The goal of such behavior analytic research is to provide methods for reducing the overall number of children who fall into the retardation range of development by behavioral engineering.[185]

Probably the most extensive study to date has been the work of Hart and Risely (1995, 1999).[186][187] These authors contrasted the rates of parent communication with children at the age of 2-4 years old and correlated it with IQ scores for children at age nine. The research showed that the more parents spoke to children, the higher the IQ, even after partialling out the effect for race, class, and socio-economic status. The authors reached the conclusion that to change IQ scores significantly, an interventionist would need to work with children at risk for close to 40 hours/week. As pointed out in the Bell Curve, no program to date has been effective in the long term change of IQ scores and producing significant corresponding changes in social class.

Class formation

The formation of class-like behavior has been of considerable interest to behavior analysts studying development. Extensive research has been done in this area.[188] From this research, behavior analysts have offered multiple paths to the development and formation of class-like behavior. These paths include primary stimulus generalization,[189][190] an analysis of abstraction[191][192][193][194][195][196] relational frame theory[197][198][199][200] stimulus class analysis (sometimes referred to as recombinative generalization),[201][202] stimulus equivalence,[203] and response class analysis.[204][205][206][207][208][209] Of particular interest is the analysis of the response class. Multiple processes for class like formation provide behavior analysts with relatively pragmatic explanations for common issues of novelity and generalization.

Responses organize in a form assembled by the particular form need to fit the environmental challenge at hand. Thus, the forms of the responses organize by responses functional consequences. Such large response classes can merge as in the case of contingency adduction.[210] Much more research needs to be done on the issue of contingency adduction, especially with a focus on how large classes of concepts shift. For example, as Piaget pointed out have a tendency at the pre-operational stage to have limits to their ability to conserver (Piaget & Szeminska, 1952). While training children to develop conservation skills has been generally successful[211][212] it is by no means easy.[213] Behavior analysts argue that this is largely due to the number of tool skills that need to be developed and integrated. Adduction offers a process by which such skills can be synthesized and hence warrants further attention, particularly by early interventionists. Even with this said, children who learn to conserve early do not appear to have any other life benefit from the learning process.[213] This last brings up questions of the relevance of Piaget's model to development.


Ferster (1961) was the first to posit a behavior analytic theory for autism[214] Ferster's model saw autism as a byproduct of social interactions between parent and child. Ferster presented an analysis of how a variety of contingencies of reinforcement between parent and child during the early years might establish and strengthen a repertoire of behaviors typically seen in children diagnosed with autism. A similar model was proposed by Drash and Tutor (1993). They developed the contingency-shaped or behavioral incompatibility theory of autism.[215] They identify at least six reinforcement paradigms that may contribute to significant deficiency in verbal behavior that they identified and analyzed in their research with children labeled as autistic. They held that each of these paradigms may concurrently create a repertoire of avoidance responses that could contribute to the establishment of a repertoire of behavior that would be incompatible with the acquisition of age-appropriate verbal behavior.

More recent models attribute autism to neurological and sensory models that play out overtime to produce the autistics repertoire. Lovaas and Smith (1989) proposed that children with autism has a mismatch between their nervous systems and the environment[216] Bijou and Ghezzi (1999) proposed a behavioral interference theory.[217] However, some recent evidence for the environmental mismatch model was recently reviewed as well as the inference model. [218]. From this article, it appears that some support exists to suggest that the development of ausitic behaviors are due to escape and avoidance of certain types of sensory stimuli.What seems to be the common feature of the behavioral models for autism is the stunning lack of research conducted on them. At this point, they remain mostly speculation.

Role in education

One of the biggest impacts that behavior analysis of child development has had is on the field of education. In the field of education, in 1968, Siegfried Englemann used operant conditioning techniques, a task analysis of curriculum, and combined them with rule learning to produce the Direct Instruction curriculum (see DISTAR).[219][220] In addition, Fred S. Keller used similar techniques to develop programmed instruction. Skinner developed a programmed instruction curriculum for teaching hand writing. One of Skinner's students, Ogden Lindsley, developed a standardized semilogrithmic chart, the "Standard Behavior Chart" now "Standard Celeration Chart" for recording frequencies of behavior, and to allow direct visual comparisons of such frequencies and changes in those frequencies, termed "celeration". Use of this charting tool for analysis of instructional effect or other environmental variable by direct measurement of learner performance has become known as precision teaching.[221]

Critiques of behavioral approach and new developments

Some have questioned if a behavioral approach to development is enough or if more traditional developmental variables play a causal role.[222] Particularly in areas of attachment.[223] While some questions remain, it is clear that, in general, response contingent learning opportunities produce strong emotional benefits and enhance emotional development.[224] Behavior analytic theories have been criticized for focusing on explaining the acquisition of relatively simple behavior (the behavior of nonhuman species, of infants, and of individuals who are mentally retarded or autistic) rather than complex behavior (see Commons & Miller).[225] Michael Commons continued behavior analysis's rejecting of mentalism and substituted a task analysis of the particular skills to be learned. This approach shows that more complex behaviors combine and sequence less complex behaviors. This fact of hierarchical organization may be used to define the nature of stage and stage transition. In his new model, he has created a behavior analytic model of more complex behavior in line with more contemporary quantitative behavior analytic models. He calls this the model of hierarchical complexity. Commons (Commons, Trudeau, et. al 1998[226]) constructed the model of hierarchical complexity of tasks and their corresponding stages of performance using basically just three main axioms (see Model of hierarchical complexity).[227]

In the study of development, recent work has been generated around combining behavior analytic views with dynamical systems theory[228] The added benefit of this approach is that it shows how small patterns of changes in behavior in terms of principles and mechanisms over time can produce substantial changes in development.[229]

Current research in behavior analysis attempts to extend the patterns learned in childhood and to determine their impact on adult development.

Professional support of behavior analytic model

Journals – In response to the growing body of research in child development, the creation of two online journals devoted to behavior analysis and child development are the Behavioral Development Bulletin and an international journal online devoted to developmental pathology and its intervention - Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Intervention

Professional Organizations – The Association for Behavior Analysis International contains a special interest group on behavior analysis of child development. This group continues the research tradition outlined above. In addition, this group offers a Sidney Bijou award and scholarship for those studying child developments from a behavioral perspective.


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