Using sensory extinction procedures in the treatment of compulsivelike behavior of developmentally disabled children

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Investigated the possible role of sensory reinforcement in the motivation of certain rituals. The authors introduced a treatment procedure, sensory extinction, in which certain sensory consequences are masked or removed to examine whether some rituals are operant behaviors maintained by sensory reinforcement. The effect of sensory extinction was assessed using a within-S reversal design for each of 2 8-yr-olds. Results show the following: (a) Light-switching rituals decreased substantially when a certain sensory consequence was removed, then increased when that consequence was reintroduced. This effect was replicable within and across children. (b) Different sensory consequences were found to be functional for the 2 Ss, despite the topographical similarity of the target behaviors. This analysis suggests that one must assess the motivational determinants of ritualistic behavior in each individual case to diagnose properly whether it is compulsive (avoidance) or operant behavior and to determine what should be the treatment of choice (anxiety reduction or sensory extinction). The possible usefulness of sensory extinction in assessing and treating behavior disorders is discussed. (29 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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