2018: Catherine Stephens

West Virginia University

Catherine Stephens is a doctoral student in behavior analysis at West Virginia University (WVU) under the supervision of Dr. Claire St. Peter. Her primary research focus is applying behavior analytic principles to improve post-secondary education. She pursues this interest by conducting basic and applied research on behavioral processes involved in education and procedures to improve student outcomes in a variety of undergraduate classes. Ultimately, she hopes to use this research to promote policy changes that will increase the use of research-based practices in all educational settings.


Catherine’s thesis investigates the connection between resurgence and problem solving. The study examines the extent to which college students use previously taught methods to solve math problems. First, the students are taught one method of solving quadratic equations. Then, students are presented problems that can be solved using this method, and their responses are reinforced when the method is used correctly. Next, the students are taught a second method of solving quadratic equations. Following this instruction, the students are presented with problems that can be solved only using the second method, essentially placing the first method on extinction. During this time, correct responses using the second method are reinforced. Following this procedure, students are given problems they cannot solve using either of these methods. In effect, both methods are placed on extinction. Attempts to use the first method to solve these problems are resurgence. Catherine’s study may inform methods of teaching that increase a student’s ability to solve future problems, both in class and in novel situations following the class. Catherine thanks SABA for supporting this research, as well as the faculty and her peers at WVU for inspiring the study.


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