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Associative Learning and Conditioning TheoryHuman and Non-Human Applications$
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Todd R. Schachtman and Steve S. Reilly

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199735969

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199735969.001.0001

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Discrimination Learning Process in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Discrimination Learning Process in Autism Spectrum Disorders

A Comparator Theory

(p.168) Chapter 8 Discrimination Learning Process in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Associative Learning and Conditioning Theory

Phil Reed

Oxford University Press

The chapter reviews evidence that suggests that there is a deficit in discrimination learning in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), for both simple and conditional discriminations. These deficits are linked to several of the core problems seen in many individuals with ASD, and they are discussed with reference to the concept of overselectivity. A new conceptualization of discrimination learning for those with ASD, based on a comparator theory, is postulated; this theory includes the notion that the comparator is sensitive to relative, rather than absolute, differences in stimulus strength, and that the comparator in individuals with ASD is hypersensitive to such differences. Several predictions derived from this model are shown to be substantiated, including postconditioning revaluation effects; enhanced overselectivity with subasymptotic learning; and greater sensitivity to slight differences between stimuli in ASD. The implications of this application of learning theory to interventions for overselectivity in an ASD population are discussed.

Keywords:   autism, discrimination learning, comparator theory

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