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Keywords:

  • hand mouthing;
  • functional analysis;
  • automatic reinforcement hypothesis;
  • self-stimulatory behavior;
  • self-injurious behavior;
  • stereotypy

Hand mouthing often has been described as a stereotypic response that is maintained by non-social (automatic) reinforcement; however, data supporting this conclusion can be found in relatively few studies. This series of studies presents an experimental analysis of conditions associated with the maintenance of hand mouthing. In Experiment 1, a functional analysis was conducted for 12 individuals who engaged in chronic hand mouthing to determine whether the behavior is usually maintained independent of social contingencies. Results obtained for 10 subjects were consistent with an automatic reinforcement hypothesis; the remaining 2 subjects' hand mouthing was maintained by social-positive reinforcement. Based on these results, Experiment 2 was designed to identify the specific reinforcing properties of hand mouthing. Each of 4 subjects was provided with a toy that substituted for hand mouthing, and preference for a specific topography of toy manipulation (hand-toy contact or mouth-toy contact) was measured. Results indicated that hand stimulation was the predominant reinforcer for all subjects. Experiment 3 provided an extension of Experiment 2 in that the same responses were measured across a variety of toys presented to each of 5 subjects. Results again indicated that hand stimulation was the predominant reinforcer for all subjects. Implications of these results are discussed with relevance to treatment.