Types and amplitudes of touch as reinforcing stimuli in operant conditioning of infant behavior

Hiselgis Perez, Florida International University


The reinforcing effects of diverse tactile stimuli were examined in this study. The study had two purposes. First, this study expanded on the Pelaez-Nogueras, Field, Gewirtz, Cigales, Gonzalez, Sanchez and Clasky (1997) finding that stroking increases infants' gaze duration, and smiling and vocalization frequencies more than tickling/poking. Instead of presenting poking and tickling as a single stimulus combination, this study separated poking and tickling in order to measure the effects of each component separately. Further, the effects of poking, tickling/tapping and stroking intensity (i.e., tactile pressure) were compared by having both mild and intense conditions. Second, this study compared the reinforcing efficacy of mother-delivered tactile stimulation to that of infant-originated tactile exploration. Twelve infants from 2- to 5-months of age participated in this study. The experiment was conducted using a repeated measures A-B-A-C-A-D reversal design. The A phases signified baselines and reversals. The B, C, and D phases consisted of alternating treatments (either mild stroking vs. mild poking vs. mild tickling/tapping, intense stroking vs. intense poking vs. intense tickling/tapping, or mother-delivered tactile stimulation vs. infant-originated tactile exploration). Three experimental hypotheses were assessed: (1) infant leg kick rate would be greater when it produced stroking or tickling/tapping (presumptive positive reinforcers), than when it produced poking (a possible punisher), regardless of tactile pressure; (2) infant leg kick rate would be greater when it produced a more intense level of stroking or tickling/tapping and lower when it produced intense poking compared to mild poking; (3) infant leg-kick rate would be greater for mother-delivered tactile stimulation than for infant-originated tactile exploration. Visual inspection and inferential statistical methods were used to analyze the results. The data supported the first two hypotheses. Mixed support emerged for the third hypothesis. This study made several important contributions to the field of psychology. First, this was the first study to quantify the pressure of tactile stimulation, via a pressure meter developed by the researcher. Additionally, the results of this study yielded valuable information about the effects of different modalities of touch.

Subject Area

Behaviorial sciences|Psychology|Experiments

Recommended Citation

Perez, Hiselgis, "Types and amplitudes of touch as reinforcing stimuli in operant conditioning of infant behavior" (2000). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI9991052.