The Effects of Contingent Pairing on Establishing Praise as a Reinforcer with Children with Autism

  • Judah B. AxeEmail author
  • Amanda P. Laprime


Social stimuli often do not function as reinforcers for the behavior of children with autism. Reinforcement by social stimuli, such as praise, is required for the maintenance and generalization of a multitude of social behaviors, most notably verbal behaviors maintained by generalized conditioned reinforcement. The purpose of this study was to extend the literature on conditioning praise as a reinforcer. We identified primary reinforcers for two nonverbal participants with autism (ages 5 and 9): tickles and potato chips. A preliminary reinforcer analysis demonstrated that button-pressing was consistently more frequent in a contingent primary reinforcer condition than in contingent praise and no programmed consequence conditions. Contingent pairing of praise and the primary reinforcer was then administered in 1-min sessions, and responding during praise alone was evaluated before and after pairing sessions each day. In the context of a reversal design with praise probes, pairing resulted in increases in button-pressing in the praise condition relative to the no programmed consequence condition. In addition, 6 consecutive pairing sessions resulted in higher levels of button-pressing with praise than 3 consecutive pairing sessions. Future research should continue refining the procedures for conditioning attention as a reinforcer as well as examine more closely the role of motivating operations in the process.


Conditioned reinforcement Pairing Praise Reinforcer assessment Social behavior 


Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was funded by the Simmons College Fund for Research.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from the parents or guardians of all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Education, Department of Behavior AnalysisSimmons CollegeBostonUSA
  2. 2.The Center for Children with Special NeedsGlastonburyUSA

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