Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Psychological and Quantitative Foundations

First Advisor

Wacker, David P

Second Advisor

Ehly, Stewart W

First Committee Member

Cooper-Brown, Linda J

Second Committee Member

Lindgren, Scott D

Third Committee Member

Northup, John A


Perseverative conversation is a problem vocal behavior that is unique to individuals with Asperger's disorder. It is characterized by long-winded monologues revolving around circumscribed interests. The current research literature suggests that perseverative conversation may exacerbate already poor social relations, impede productivity at work and home, and lead to disruptive behavior when it is restricted. Despite the negative repercussions there is a lack of research related to the assessment and treatment of this behavior. In the field of applied behavior analysis, concurrent operants assessments have been used effectively to identify relative preference for concurrently available reinforcers. In the current study, choice assessments using concurrent operants arrangements were used to evaluate the reinforcing properties of perseverative conversation in children and adolescents with Asperger's disorder. Five participants, all with Asperger's disorder and reported difficulties with perseverative conversation, were assessed in three phases: A preference assessment for conversation topics; an assessment of preference for reinforcer dimensions; and an assessment of preference for competing dimensions. In the first phase a two-stage preference assessment separated high-preferred from less-preferred conversation topics and in the second and third phases participants were asked to make choices regarding their preference for conversation content, conversational style, and conversation duration. Phase II results suggested that participants preferred conversing about their respective circumscribed interests over neutral topics, actively conversing rather than listening, and conversing for longer duration rather than shorter duration. Phase III, which assessed relative preference for the three reinforcer dimensions, resulted in a hierarchy of preference for all but one participant. Two participants demonstrated the strongest preference for conversation content and two participants demonstrated the strongest preference for conversational style. Conversation duration was least preferred by four of the five participants. Perseverative conversation occurred at a relatively high rate across all assessment phases. The results are discussed in terms of current theoretical explanations for perseverative thinking and behavior, implications for treatment, and future research of this problem vocal behavior.


Asperger's disorder, behavioral assessment, circumscribed interests, concurrent operants, perseveration, repetitive and restricted behaviors


xi, 183 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 164-183).


Copyright 2009 Matthew J O'Brien