Project information 

Social and tangible reinforcement in Angelman syndrome

Funded by Foundation Jerome Lejeune and the University of Birmingham from 2010 – 2013


Parental reports and experimental observations have suggested that individuals with Angelman syndrome may have specific tangible and social preferences including a fascination with water and shiny objects (Didden et al., 2006), high rates of laughing and smiling in the presence of adult interaction (Oliver et al., 2002; Horsler & Oliver, 2006) and a strong motivation to gain access to adult attention. This suggests that social interaction and certain tangible stimuli have the potential to be used as reinforcers. Previous research has also indicated that some individuals with Angelman syndrome might have difficulties maintaining attention (Walz & Benson, 2002). Consequently, individuals may find learning new adaptive behaviours difficult or challenging. This provides a strong rationale for the use of specific social and tangible preferences as effective reinforcers to help teach new adaptive behaviours.


1) To explore preferences for specific sensory and non-sensory objects and toys in children with Angelman syndrome.

2) To test the effectiveness of tangible and social stimuli as reinforcers to teach new behaviours in children with Angelman syndrome, Down syndrome and typically developing children.


Participants will be children with Angelman syndrome and Down syndrome aged 2 to 15 and their parents/carers. 

Study One
Study one will explore children’s behaviour using questionnaire measures completed by the parent/carer. The questionnaires will focus on sensory experiences, preferences, sociability and social motivation.

Study Two
In study two, children will take part in experimental observations which will provide a direct assessment of preference for a range of toys and activities, and assess the use of these as reinforcers to teach new behaviours.


Mary Heald
Tel: 0121 414 2855