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Top-Down Attentional Processing and Relational Density Evident in Word Search Performance of Children


Relational frame theory and extensions (e.g., relational density theory; Belisle & Dixon, 2020a, 2020b) provides a behavioral model for top–down attentional processing, where attention is oriented in terms of arbitrarily applicable verbal relations through the transformation of stimulus function. Children’s games may provide a strategy for testing transformations of stimulus function when developing new language skills, such as when working with children with autism. Three children with autism underwent relational training to establish lean and dense arbitrary classes. Prior-to relational training, participants were more likely to locate familiar words over unfamiliar words within a word-search task. Following relational training, participants were more likely to locate words that participated in high-density relational classes over neutral or low-density relational classes. These results support the use of common games to supplement relational training with children with autism and provide evidence that top–down attentional processing may involve transformations of stimulus function and can be predicted and influenced through relational training to establish high-density relational classes.

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Belisle, J., Paliliunas, D., Stanley, C.R. et al. Top-Down Attentional Processing and Relational Density Evident in Word Search Performance of Children. Behav Analysis Practice (2021).

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  • relational frame theory
  • relational density theory
  • autism
  • games