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Establishing praise as a conditioned reinforcer: Pairing with one versus multiple reinforcers

Praise and other forms of attention may not function as reinforcers for the behavior of children with autism. Previous research demonstrated that contingently pairing praise with reinforcers (response stimulus) can establish praise as a conditioned reinforcer. We evaluated a procedure for establishing praise as a generalized conditioned reinforcer (pair praise with four reinforcers) and compared it with a procedure to establish praise as a conditioned reinforcer (pair praise with one reinforcer). We compared the two conditions in a reversal design with “praise” and “no programmed consequence” conditions rapidly alternated after pairing phases. With three out of five participants with autism, responding in the “pair‐with‐four” condition showed higher levels of responding or more increasing trends compared with that in “pair‐with‐one” condition. We also replicated previous contingent pairing research with two participants in a multiple baseline across participants design. A limitation was the absence of manipulating motivating operations in assessing the efficacy of praise as a generalized conditioned reinforcer. Nevertheless, these data contribute to the research on establishing praise as a reinforcer, and we recommend directions for future research.

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