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Differential attention in the treatment of operant cough

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This case study reports the successful use of differential attention in the treatment of chronic operant coughing of 6 months' duration in a 13-year-old boy. The boy was hospitalized, where the symptom was ignored and his adaptive age-appropriate behaviors were reinforced with points and praise. Fines were levied for self-derogatory statements. Obtrusive and unobtrusive observations revealed the cough rate higher when the patient was aware of being observed than when he was unaware of being observed. After 4 days the cough rate dropped to zero, where it remained except for a slight recurrence on the day of discharge. His parents were trained in maintaining the differential attention contingencies in effect in the hospital and were able to transfer these conditions to the home. Thus, when the cough again returned once the patient was home, they were able to immediately terminate it. Follow-up of over 36 months revealed the boy to be symptom free.

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Munford, P.R., Liberman, R.P. Differential attention in the treatment of operant cough. J Behav Med 1, 289–295 (1978). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00846680

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Key words

  • coughing
  • differential attention
  • operant