Cognitive flexibility training with severely and moderately mentally handicapped persons
An attempt is made in this thesis to measure the effects of Cognitive Flexibility Training with moderately and severely handicapped individuals. The first chapter starts by introducing various criteria adopted to classify mentally retarded people. This leads to discussion on the objectives, strategies and trends of research in mental handicap, which were the subject of critical reviews in the recent papers published in the American Journal of Mental Deficiency. Since the theoretical frameworks play an important part in determining research, these positions are summarised along with the methodological problems involved in carrying out research. The general theme in this thesis is to study the processes underlying the learning of subnormal persons, and it is therefore considered appropriate to introduce the concept of amelioration in this chapter. The second chapter attempts to amplify and report the experimental studies relating to psychological methods used in modifying the existing handicaps of severely and moderately retarded subjects. These studies pertain to sensori-motor and perceptual processes, vocational skills, social skills, mediation and conceptual behaviour, academic skills, language and predictive assessments. This provides a broader context for investigations reported in the later chapters. In the third chapter, there is a move from general to specific discussions regarding the concept of rigidity in mental subnormality, an area of investigation detailed in chapters six, seven, eight and nine. Various theoretical frameworks to study rigidity/flexibility put forward by Lewin and Kounin, Goldstein, Werner and Strauss, Zigler, Heal and Johnson and Clarke and Clarke are summarised. Subjects employed in the experiments described in the later chapters lived in large institutions. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to discuss briefly in the fourth chapter the experimental literature related to the effects of institutional experience on the behaviour of mentally handicapped persons. These studies cover the characteristics of the person, nature of the institution, and measures of the behavioural growth of retarded persons. The fifth chapter starts with statements pertaining to the study of cognitive processes in retarded, as compared to non-retarded, persons, reflecting developmental and deficit or difference theories. It is noted from the reviews undertaken in the previous chapters that there is a gap between the cognitive capacity and cognitive competence of the severely and moderately handicapped persons. Hence, the transfer of training paradigm is used to study rigidity/flexibility to evaluate retarded individuals' on-going behaviour, which is illustrated in the overall plan of the research. This is followed by general design, type of subjects chosen, materials used, procedure adopted and the type of analysis employed on the data obtained, to evaluate the effectiveness of training. In the sixth chapter, studies related to Cognitive Flexibility Training carried out by Corter and McKinney with bright normal and mildly handicapped children and productive thinking by Rouse with educable retarded subjects are outlined in the earlier part of this chapter. The first experiment is aimed at evaluating the Cognitive Flexibility Training with severer grades of handicap, by using a modified version of Corter and McKinney's training programme. The training covers Conceptual, Perceptual and Spontaneous areas of flexibility. The results are highly significant in the areas of Conceptual and Spontaneous flexibility, and less effect was apparent in Perceptual flexibility tasks. Since perceptual tasks are frequently reported in the literature to study rigidity, it seemed appropriate to investigate this concept in depth. Therefore, an experiment was devised to investigate Perceptual Flexibility by using Embedded Figure Tasks. In the seventh chapter, the programme devised by the author of this thesis, aimed at teaching part-whole perception and thereby increasing the subjects' ability to notice changes in the internal parts of a stimulus, is described. The results indicate that the training programme devised by the experimenter was very effective, as compared to Corter and McKinney's programme in this particular area of flexibility. In the eighth chapter, another area of Perceptual Flexibility is investigated, namely Figure-Ground Reversals. It is noted that severely retarded adults, like young children, find difficulty in discriminating visual orientation and rotated mirror-images. In the third experiment the effects of perceptual training are evaluated in geometrical figures and their reversals. The results are significant to indicate, once again, that overt responses of severely and moderately retarded people do not ordinarily reflect their ability and that they respond to intensive training. In the ninth chapter, the concept of rigidity is re-examined in the light of Chown's definition. This concept is investigated in the context of variety of training. The results are significant, and differ from the findings of Lewin and Kounin's theory of rigidity in mental handicap. The results of the research reported in this thesis are discussed in the tenth chapter in the context of all approaches put forward to explain the apparent rigid behaviour of the mentally retarded persons, with implications for social policies. It concludes by summarising the important issues raised by this research. The details of the materials used in the Transfer and Training tasks in all four experiments are described in the Appendices, A1 to D2.