SABA 2023 Sidney W. & Janet R. Bijou Grant: Abbie Cooper

Abbie Cooper is a doctoral student at West Virginia University studying under the mentorship of Dr. Claire St. Peter. She completed her B.S. in chemistry at St. Lawrence University before discovering behavior analysis. Her research interests center around understanding resurgence and other relapse phenomena following negative reinforcement and the translation of basic understandings of resurgence to clinical and novel settings. The Bijou Grant will support her study of one of those novel applications of resurgence.
One such application of resurgence is the relapse of caregiving responses (both appropriate and abusive). Abusive Head Trauma (formerly known as Shaken Baby Syndrome) is abuse that can lead to significant disability and neurological damage in infants. It affects approximately 1200-1400 infants every year. A leading predictor of AHT is colicky crying which is incessant crying that appropriate caregiving behavior cannot prevent or stop. Although there has been previous research on methods to prevent AHT, almost none of it has taken a behavior-analytic approach. The goal of this project is to better understand the environmental variables that impact infant caregiver behavior from a behavior-analytic approach. From this approach, caregiver behavior can be said to be under the control of negative reinforcement (i.e., caregiver behavior stops crying which increases the likelihood of that behavior in the future). The first goal of the project is to establish the probability of the emergence of shaking during the extinction of previously negatively reinforced, appropriate caregiving responses. The second goal of the project is to evaluate the utility of a contingency-management approach for promoting positive caregiving practices for individuals with a previous negative reinforcement history for shaking.
The Bijou Grant will support the development of simulated infants that will allow Abbie and her team to use a novel human-operant approach to study the relapse of caregiving responses. The research will provide valuable insight into the environmental variables that lead to abusive caregiver responses and test the efficacy of contingency management for treating participants with an experimental history of negatively reinforced abusive caregiving behavior.

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