Julie Vargas Research Award

The Julie Vargas Research Award for Completed Graduate Student Research in California

Dr. Julie Vargas

The Julie Vargas Award was created by Dr. Julie Vargas of the B. F. Skinner Foundation. Two awards of $250 each were available each year and awarded at our annual conference. See past recipients below. 

Purpose of the Award 

  • To support and encourage completed research efforts in behavior analysis among graduate students in California 
  • To promote Skinnerian science
  • To boost the overall quality of academic research in behavior analysis 
  • To provide recognition for students conducting behavior analytic research  

Congratulations to the 2019 Award Winner

Jocelyn Diaz
California State University, Sacramento
Title - The Role of Verbal Behavior on the Establishment of Comparative Relations
Advisor: Caio Miguel, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Past Recipients - Congratulations!

Geoffrey Richard Browning
California State University, Fresno
Title - Being a Social Climber: The Effects of a Rock Climbing Intervention on the Social Interactions and Motor Skills of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder 
Advisor: Dr. Marianne Jackson

Kimberly Magat
California State University, Sacramento
Title - A Comparison of Instructive Feedback and General Praise for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Advisor: Dr. Megan Heinicke


Chelsee Rodriguez
California State University, Fresno
Paper: It’s Not Always a Stranger That’s the Danger: A Safe-Word Intervention for Abduction Prevention in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Advisor: Marianne Jackson, PhD, BCBA-D

Grecia Mendoza
California State University, Fresno
Paper: Evaluating the Effects of High-Probability/Low-Probability Sequences on a Measure of Interrogative Suggestibility    
Advisor: Marianne Jackson, PhD, BCBA-D


Adrienne Jennings

The Role of Intraverbal Naming on the Emergence of Generalized Equivalence Classes” - CSU Sacramento under advisement of Dr. Caio Miguel

Kelli Hill

“Using Equivalence-Based Instruction to Teach Piano Skills to Children” - CSU Sacramento under advisement of Dr. Caio Miguel

Lorraine Becerra
California State University, Northridge

An Analysis of Two Modifications to the MSWO Preference Assessment Format
The consistency of stimulus rankings across repeated multiple-stimulus-without-replacement (MSWO; DeLeon & Iwata (1996)) preference assessments may influence the predictive validity of preference outcomes. Few studies have reported on the consistency of MSWO outcomes, and those that have show somewhat weak and variable consistency across subjects. The current study evaluated the effects of two novel modifications to the MSWO format on the consistency and validity of preference rankings. Preschool children participated in MSWO assessments that were conducted using either a standard format, a weighted format, or a limited-selection format. The two novel formats were tested for their effects on both consistency and validity of preference rankings. Methodological implications of these data, as well as recommendations for future research, will be discussed.


DeLeon, I. G., & Iwata, B. A. (1996).  Evaluation of a  multiple-stimulus presentation format for assessing reinforcer preferences.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 29(4), 519-533.

Lisa Stedman-Falls
California State University, Northridge

A Comparison of a Humanoid Robot to a Simulated Client in Training Research
Researchers can face methodological challenges when they evaluate staff training interventions, as trainee performance often depends on client responses. If clients respond differently within and/or across conditions, trainees may have unequal opportunities to perform the skills targeted which threatens the internal validity of the study. As a possible solution, we tested the use of a robot as a simulated client. In Experiment 1, we used multiple baseline designs across participants to train 5 undergraduate students to implement a paired-stimulus (PS) preference assessment with either a robot (3 participants) or simulated client (2 participants). Following training, all 5 participants implemented the assessment at mastery criteria and skills generalized across simulated clients. We conducted Experiment 2 using a multi-element design, in which 8 participants conducted both the PS and the multiple-stimulus without replacement preference assessments. Participants conducted one of the assessments with the robot and the other with the simulated client, and we probed for generalization across children after mastery criteria was reached for both assessments. We found that most participants performed similarly regardless of the assessment they conducted or the simulated client with whom they worked. Given our results from Experiment 1 and 2, we conclude that a robot may be an effective simulated client in training research. These findings lead to major implications about the future of staff training research and the integration of advanced technologies with behavior analysis.

Melissa Mendoza
California State University, Northridge

Can Behavioral Staff Be Trained to Implement Paired-Stimulus Preference   Assessments Using Only a Self-Instructional Package?
Researchers have focused on designing effective and time-efficient strategies to maximize   supervisors' time spent on training behavioral staff.  Graff and Karsten (2012) evaluated the effectiveness of using a written instructional package to teach 11   special education teachers to conduct, score, and interpret the results from both   the paired-stimulus and multiple-stimulus without replacement preference assessments.   The authors found that participants could implement both preference assessments with   fidelity after reading a self-instructional package and that the skills generalized to clients.   Thus, our main objective was to replicate the study conducted by  Graff and Karsten (2012) with 5 behavioral staff using a multiple baseline design, We found that 3 of the 5   participants met mastery after reading the self-instructional package. One of the participants   met mastery after we introduced a slightly modified version of the self-instructional package,   and the final participant required brief sessions of feedback and modeling to meet mastery.   We also conducted generalization probes in-field with actual clients. Results of this study   suggest that self-instructional packages can be used to teach staff to conduct paired-stimulus   preference assessments; however, some staff may need the addition of feedback and modeling to   acquire the skill.


Graff, R. B., & Karsten, A. M. (2012).  Evaluation of a  self-instruction package for conducting stimulus preference assessments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 45(1), 69-82.

Denice Rios
California State University, Northridge

A Component Analysis of Feedback
Feedback interventions have included some or all of the following components:

  • information regarding performance criteria or accuracy of previous performance,
  • strategies for correct responding,
  • delivery of praise or tangibles contingent on correct responding, and
  • opportunities to ask questions
Given the variability in the use of feedback across studies, it is unclear which specific   components are necessary for feedback to be effective. This variability may be why researchers   have reported inconsistencies in the overall effectiveness of feedback. In this study, using a   multiple baseline design, we conducted a component analysis of feedback by exposing 5   undergraduate students to 3 different levels of feedback in an additive sequence.   The feedback intervention consisted of the following components:  
  1. stating the performance criteria,
  2. specifying the accuracy of previous performance, and
  3. modeling plus strategies for future correct responding.
We found that the first two feedback components in the sequence were sufficient in   bringing the performance of 4 of the 5 individuals to mastery criterion. The implications   of these findings for clinical supervisors who provide performance feedback will be discussed.

Tracy Larson
University of the Pacific

Treatment Implications of a Functional Analysis Of Moderate-To-Vigorous Physical Activity In Young Children
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that children engage in 60 min of moderate-to-vigorous  physical activity (MVPA) every day of the week  (CDC, 2013),  current estimates suggest that most children do not  (Troiano et al., 2008).  Inadequate physical activity increases the risks related to a number of health problems in children  (Reilly & Kelly, 2011),  however, these risks are mitigated, at least in part, by increasing activity to levels correlated with health benefits  (Ross et al., 2000). The functional analysis methodology proposed by  Iwata, Dorsey, Slifer, Bauman, & Richman (1994) provides an efficient and effective way to identify functional  relationships, and lends itself to  investigating the variables responsible for increased levels of MVPA. In  the current study, the functional analysis methodology  was used to assess relationships between MVPA and environmental events  (i.e., Attention, Interactive Play, Alone, and Escape),  which were alternated with a control condition in a multielement design.  Results of the current study indicated that all four  participants were most active in the Interactive Play condition and the  percentage of MVPA varied across test and control conditions.  In addition, the frequency and duration of bouts of MVPA was greatest in  the Interactive Play condition for all participants.  The current study presents a methodology for identifying environmental  contingencies that support increased levels of MVPA in  young children, and holds great promise for improving our understanding  of the variables related to physical activity so that  effective interventions can be designed to improve children's health and  wellbeing.  


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013, February 19). Childhood obesity facts. Retrieved  from http://cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

Iwata, B. A., Dorsey, M. F., Slifer, K. J., Bauman, K. E., & Richman, G. S. (1994).  Toward a functional analysis of self-injury. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27(2), 197-209.    

Reilly, J. J., & Kelly, J. (2011).  Long-term impact of overweight and obesity in childhood and  adolescence on morbidity and premature mortality in adulthood: systematic review.  International Journal of Obesity, 35(7), 891-898.  

Ross, R., Dagnone, D., Jones, P. J., Smith, H., Paddags, A., Hudson, R., & Janssen, I. (2000).  Reduction in obesity  and related comorbid conditions after diet-induced weight loss or exercise-induced weight loss in men.  A randomized, controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 133(2), 92-103.  

Troiano, R. P., Berrigan, D., Dodd, K. W., Mâsse, L. C., Tilert, T., & McDowell, M. (2008).  Physical  activity in the United States measured by accelerometer. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 40(1), 181-188.  

Vissy Kobari-Wright
California State University, Sacramento

The Effects of Listener Training on Naming and Categorization by Children with Autism
Recent studies have demonstrated that the skill of sorting objects by category develops with no  direct training when objects occasion the same speaker and listener behavior (naming). The  purpose of the current study was to examine the role of listener training in the emergence of  speaker behavior and categorization. Participants included four children diagnosed with autism  (ranging from 4-5 years of age). The effects of listener training were evaluated using a nonconcurrent  multiple-baseline design across participants. Three children, who failed to categorize  or emit the speaker behavior during pretraining were able to do so during posttraining probes.  The fourth participant required the direct training of speaker behavior in order to categorize the  stimuli. These results suggest that listener training may be an efficient way to produce novel  categorization in children diagnosed with autism, as long as full naming is developed.

Allison Morley
University of the Pacific

Descriptive and Experimental Analyses of Variables Maintaining Moderate-to-Vigorous  Physical Activity in Preschool Children
Direct observation provides information regarding variables (i.e., context and composition)  related to moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA). However, in most research of this  kind, environmental variables are not manipulated and, therefore, functional relationships cannot  be determined. Recently, a functional analysis methodology was developed to assess the effect  of outdoor activity context on MVPA in preschool children (Hustyi, Normand, Larson, &  Morley, in press). Because results from Hustyi et al. differed from those reported in descriptive  assessment studies, the purpose of the current study was to compare directly the results yielded  from descriptive analyses of MVPA to those of functional analyses in the same children.  Descriptive and functional analyses were conducted on a daycare playground, with the functional  analysis conditions arranged in a multi-element experimental design. Results indicated  correspondence between the descriptive and functional analyses for both participants in the 1-to-1  peer and group compositions, however there was limited or no correspondence in the solitary  compositions. Previous research has demonstrated poor correspondence between descriptive and  functional analyses, albeit with different behavioral targets and mostly different populations  (e.g., Lerman & Iwata, 1993; Pence et al., 2009; Thompson & Iwata 2007). The current data  may suggest the importance of a functional assessment of variables evoking MVPA in children.  Results may also suggest that descriptive assessments are sufficient for such purposes, although  typically require more time to complete than do functional analyses. The data derived from such  functional assessments can be used to arrange optimal environments for evoking and maintaining  MVPA.

Mychal Machado
University of the Pacific

Picture This: Smoking Cues as Elicitors of Compensatory Responses in Smokers
The current study extends previous research on conditional compensatory responses and illicit  drugs to smoking by exposing ten adult smokers (n = 5) and nonsmokers (n = 5) to smoking and  non-smoking related imagery in an ABCBC reversal design. Pre and post slideshow carbon monoxide  (CO) levels were taken as the main measure of compensatory responding. Heart rate and blood  pressure readings also were recorded. Results demonstrated that CO measures of smokers  were lower following a visual presentation of smoking-related images as compared to a presentation  of non-smoking-related images. This drop in CO levels was not evident in
  1. nonsmoking participants,
  2. smoking participants following a non-smoking visual array, or
  3. a smoker-control participant.
In addition, no differential patterns of heart rate or blood pressure were observed  in any participants during any condition. These data suggest that compensatory responses  also occur in smokers and this may have important implications for our understanding of  "withdrawal" and "cravings" as conditioned physiological responses.

Alice A. Keyl
Utah State University

Effects of Methylphenidate on the Within-Session Response Rates of Rats
Changes in response rates during experimental sessions may reflect systematic decreases   in reinforcer effectiveness. One important area of interest to examine is whether therapeutic   drugs potentially enhance or decrease the effectiveness of reinforcers. The present basic   research study examined the effects of methylphenidate on within-session response patterns   of 4 rats. Subjects were administered methylphenidate (3.0 - 17.0 mg/kg) while responding   for food pellets on a random-interval 45 s schedule of reinforcement. Overall, results   suggest that methylphenidate may maintain the effectiveness of the reinforcer longer. This   result may have important clinical implications for individuals taking stimulant drugs such   as methylphenidate.

Yun-Yi Tsai
California State University, Los Angeles

Effects of Antecedent Interventions on Behaviors for Children with Autism
This study evaluated the effects of using picture activity schedules with and without   choice on task engagement behaviors of children with autism. An alternating treatment   design within a multiple baseline across subjects was used to compare the effectiveness   of two different interventions. For each child, a preference assessment was conducted   before the data collection. A momentary time sampling procedure was used to record the   on/off-task behaviors and a frequency recording method was used to record the number of   the adult prompts during independent work activities. The results show the participants   demonstrated increases in on-task behavior and decreases in the number of the adult   prompts when choice making opportunities were provided with the activity schedules.

Jennifer Soeda
California State University, Fresno

The Importance of Function in Treatment Selection for Children with Minor Behavior Problems
Although functional assessment procedures have shown considerable value within the field of applied   behavior analysis, concerns regarding time and efficacy have hindered their consistent use within   schools. This study assessed the comparative effectiveness of function-based versus nonfunction-based   interventions for high incidence, low severity behavior problems in four typically developing children.   Results via an ABAC research design indicated that interventions based upon a functional behavior   assessment were more effective and efficient at reducing off-task behaviors than an intervention   which attempted to create a new function for appropriate behavior across all participants. Social   validity measures also indicated the functional intervention to be more effective, efficient, and   easier to implement.

Monica T. Francisco
University of the Pacific  

Using Progressive Ratio Schedules as a Means of Evaluating Absolute and Relative   Reinforcer Value
We conducted paired-stimulus preference assessments with three children to determine high- and   low-preferred edibles, which were associated with arbitrary tasks. Responding was evaluated in   reinforcer and progressive ratio (PR) assessments, under concurrent and single operant   schedules. Results showed that for two of three participants, low-preferred stimuli functioned as   reinforcers when evaluated independently of high-preferred stimuli and under gradually   increasing response requirements. Results suggest that when use of high-preferred stimuli is   unfeasible, delivery of relatively less-preferred stimuli may maintain appropriate behavior, even   as response effort is increased. In addition, results of the PR evaluation are suggestive of   stimulus value.

Judah Axe
Ohio State University  

Isaac L. Bermudez
CSU Los Angeles  

Daniel Openden
UC Santa Barbara  

Adel C. Najdowski
University of Nevada, Reno  

Ralph N. Pampino, Jr.
University of the Pacific  

Elizabeth Benedict
Northeastern University  

Kyle Ferguson
University of Nevada, Reno  

Doniel Drazin
UC Santa Barbara

Deirdre Fitzgerald
University of Nevada, Reno


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