Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Behavioral Analysis

First Advisor

Kimberly N. Sloman

Second Advisor

Catherine Talbot

Third Advisor

David A. Wilder

Fourth Advisor

Jonathan Fernand


Aggression is a commonly reported problem behavior for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. When assessing and treating aggression, there are risks of injury to the client and staff when the problem behavior is aggression. Investigating physiological arousal states of clients may be fruitful if this physiological measure can be used to predict occurrences of problem behavior, such as aggression. Previous research has shown varied results when investigating the relations between heart rate and problem behaviors. For some individuals, heart rate increased preceding problem behavior and for others heart rate decreased (Barrera et al., 2007). The temporal relation between heart rate and problem behavior has also been variable, where some individuals have a heart rate change before problem behavior and others after (Freeman and Horner, 1999). Goodwin et al. (2019) demonstrated that by analyzing physiological biosensor data, aggression could be predicted one minute before it occurred for twenty individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Predicting aggression before it occurs could provide enough time to make the environment safer and intervene proactively. One strategy used to create a safer environment for assessing and treating aggression is to identify precursor behaviors. Precursor behaviors occur before the target behavior and are often less severe and maintained by the same consequences as the target behavior. Thus, the purpose of Study 1 was to identify precursors to aggression for three children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. In Study 2, these same individuals participated in a precursor functional analysis. Heart rate data were analyzed during the first occurrence of the precursor behavior for the differentiated condition in the precursor functional analysis. Results were idiosyncratic across individuals when analyzing heart rate 60s before and 60s after the instance of the first precursor. For one participant, there was a heart rate pattern identified in the 6s preceding the first precursor. For two participants there was an increase in heart rate in the one minute before to the precursor behavior. For one individual there was a decrease in heart rate from the one minute before to the occurrence of the precursor.


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Available for download on Wednesday, January 31, 2024