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Acta Comportamentalia

Print version ISSN 0188-8145


CARON, Pier-Olivier; ROYER, François  and  FORGET, Jacques. Social sensitivity: A critical review. Acta comport. [online]. 2014, vol.22, n.3, pp.334-351. ISSN 0188-8145.

Social sensitivity is defined by the adjustment of an organism to the contingencies of social reinforcement (Forget & Rivard, 2010) and relies on the generalized matching law (Baum, 1974) and the operant function of social attention (Sajwaj & Dillon, 1977) such as verbal and non-verbal approvals, staring, and proximity (Forget & Otis, 1984). The current article assesses the actual state of knowledge on social sensitivity that has been carried over the last 30 years of research. Studies were identified through a search in PsycInfo regardless of the year of publication. The keywords were matching law, social sensitivity, social attention. The reference section of each article was further examined to identify additional studies on social sensitivity. Inclusion criteria were the use of single-subject designs with social reinforcers and single-subject statistical analyses relying on the generalized matching law. Other studies were rejected because of statistical issues arising from between-subject analyses (Caron, 2013). The current review identified 15 published articles and 4 theses. Results reveal that social sensitivity has been mostly studied on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and within classroom. Most studies showed that the generalized matching law describes well participants' response allocation according to social reinforcers. Among the 83 identified participants, 57 % conformed to matching law predictions. Results suggest a continuum of social sensitivity. For instance, typical participants' response allocations were generally closer to matching law predictions whereas participants with Asperger syndrome appeared to be insensitive to social reinforcers. Response allocations of the latter population showed low explained variances and a single participant showed a high sensitivity parameter. Participants with Austism Spectrum Disorders ranged between these two groups and showed higher bias value. This result agrees with the idea that this population presents and prefers stereotypic behavior. However, the review shows that 78 % of the identified studies did not use experimental designs. Most studies relied on descriptive observations, that is unconstrained reinforcers ratios, that may lead to relevant issues (St. Peter al., 2005), incorrect outcomes (Thompson & Iwata, 2007) and does not allow definitive conclusions (Bijou, Peterson & Ault, 1968). Considering only experimental designs, a single study showed results in favor of the generalized matching law, another one shows mixed results and the last two cast doubt on the capacity of the generalized matching law to describe social interaction. These ambiguous conclusions clearly point out that more experimental studies are needed. Despite that the flight from natural fields to the laboratory may represent a challenge, it is the next necessary step forward a robust and relevant theory of social sensitivity

Keywords : matching law; social sensitivity; social attention.

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