Title Professor
Area Psychology
Ph.D. University of Liverpool, 1985
Office A-315 Science Building
E-mail peter.sturmey@qc.cuny.edu
Office Phone 718-997-3234

Professional Activities:

    Society Memberships:
        American Association on Intellectual Disabilities
        National Association on Dual Diagnosis
        International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities

    Honorary appointment to King's College London, Dental Institute

Research Description:

My research focuses on evaluating methods to train staff and parents to teach children and adults with developmental disabilities to use evidence-based teaching procedures (Sturmey, 1990*; in press a) and on applied behavior analytic methods to promote language in children with developmental disabilities (Fitzer & Sturmey, 2008). Additionally, I am interested in applications of applied behavior analysis to clinical psychology (Sturmey, 2007, 2008a, in press b). I have worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities for over 30 years as a volunteer; camp counselor; researcher; clinical psychologist in the British National Health Service; Chief Psychologist in developmental centers in Texas; consultant for many community services; and consultant to the states of Louisiana and Wyoming. I have been involved in professional training in Britain, Louisiana State University and now Queens College, City University of New York. It has always struck me that children and adults with developmental disabilities would have a better life, be happier, more autonomous and valued by other people if their staff and family members got a little help to do few simple things –interact positively and often, use contingent reinforcement accurately, teach a few simple skills and be more sensitive to preferences. I also believe that if these happened consistently, staff and family members would feel more competent and have a more rewarding experience and that children and adults with developmental disabilities having better lives. These reasons are the motivation for this program of research.


The last 50 years has seen a radical shift in services delivery from under-funded, custodial, institutional care and exclusion from education to community-based services including early intervention, education and community living for children and adults with developmental disabilities. This is reflected in an enormous expansion of educational and habilitation services staffed primarily by staff, such as classroom assistants and direct care staff, with little or no effective training to do this job. The training and skills of professional and administrative staff are often little better. Many times treatments and programs are not evidence-based, but are more likely based on unregulated professional or administrative inertia, whim or prejudice. These factors result in children and adults with disabilities receiving sub-optimal services resulting in failure to progress, harmful practices, preventable disability, wasted public money and disillusioned staff and family members.

One element in addressing this problem is to train staff and parents effectively, efficiently, and acceptably to teach children and adults with developmental disabilities important skills. Our research has focused on acquisition and generalization of teaching skills.

Acquisition of Teaching Skills
Many services train staff using verbal in service methods and classroom-based teaching strategies. These interventions can provide information to many people, but often result in modest gains in skills (Sturmey, 1999*; Sturmey et al., 2007). Behavioral skills training (BST) is an alternate approach to teaching skills which consists of instructions, modeling, rehearsal and feedback. We have evaluated several variations in behavioral skills training, including directly practicing the skill with the child and role play procedures which incorporate features of general case training (Ward-Horner & Sturmey, in review; Nigro & Sturmey, in preparation). We have taught a wide variety of skills including preference assessments (Lavie & Sturmey, 2002); discrete trial teaching (Sarakoff & Sturmey, 2004, 2007, Ward-Horner & Sturmey, in review); incidental teaching (Sturmey et al., 2007); mand training (Nigro & Sturmey, in preparation); natural language teaching (Gianoumis & Sturmey, in progress; Sieverling & Sturmey, in progress); physical therapy skills (Nabayama in press) and staff-client interaction skills (Finn & Sturmey, in press).

BST is very efficient. For example, staff and parents can reach mastery criteria on some teaching skills in only 3 training sessions lasting 10 – 50 minutes, but often improve significantly within one session. BST training also often results in acquisition of child skill including reduction in child stereotypy (Dib & Sturmey, 2007), gross and fine motor imitation skills (Lafasakis & Sturmey, 2007) receptive language skills (Sarakoff & Sturmey, 2008), child mands (Nigro & Sturmey, in preparation; Thomas, Lafasakis & Sturmey, in preparation) and increased walking in children with multiple disabilities (Nabayama, in press), although not all studies have found functional relationships between acquisition of teaching skills and child behavior (Ward-Horner & Sturmey, in preparation). Data on acceptability of BST is generally positive (Nigro & Sturmey, in preparation; Thomas et al., in preparation).

Future Research
Future research in this area should address three areas: (a) teaching more complex chains of teaching skills, such as natural language paradigm, evaluation and problem solving skills when intervention is ineffective and behavioral assessment and intervention skills; (b) identifying the effective component(s) of behavioral skill training; and (c) training routine supervisors, rather than behavior analysts, to teach staff and parents (Finn & Sturmey in press).

Generalization of Teaching Skills
Staff and parents must teach many new programs, teach new students, act as float staff to unfamiliar classrooms and emit novel responses after training on familiar programs. For example, a classroom staff might have to teach 8 children 10 – 20 programs in an ABA classroom. This requires that they are competent at teaching 80 - 160 programs. Likewise, a parent teaching their child to mand must respond to child approaches to novel items that were not part of their original training. Previous research has neglected this issue. We have found quite consistent evidence of generalization of staff and parent teaching skill to novel programs that are similar to those included in training (Lafasakis & Sturmey, 2007; Sarakoff & Sturmey, 2007), to novel children learning the same or similar skills (Sarakoff & Sturmey, 2007), generalization from role play to actual teaching situations (Nigro & Sturmey in preparation, Ward-Horner & Sturmey, in preparation) and generalization to novel locations (Nabayama & Sturmey in press; Nigro & Sturmey in preparation).

Future Research
Evidence of generalization of teaching skills is encouraging, but these studies have only tested generalization to rather similar programs. Future research should investigate the boundaries of generalization of staff and parent teaching skills. Future research should also develop procedures to identify the full range programs across which generalization must occur and develop and evaluate procedures to promote generalization across the large number of programs that staff and parents must implement.

Client Preferences for Staff
There is extensive research on identifying preferred stimuli and potential reinforcers. Sturmey, Lee, Reyer & Robek (200*) found that people with a variety of disabilities could reliably identify preferred and non-preferred staff using these procedures. Jerome and Sturmey (2008) replicated these findings adults with mild intellectual disabilities using both verbal and pictorial stimuli. Further, Jerome and Sturmey also demonstrated that clients with emit more response for access to attention from preferred than non-preferred adults during progressive ratio schedule suggesting that clients may learn faster and have generally higher quality programs when working with preferred staff.

Future Research
Many services have programs that attempt to change non-preferred staff to preferred staff by relationship building programs which often involve pairing the novel staff with preferred stimuli and subsequently introducing teaching tasks and any aversive stimuli. Future research should evaluate such procedures in terms of effects on break point and on socially important client and staff behavior.


Language skills are some of the most challenging skills to teach to children with disabilities. Using the framework of Skinner's Verbal behavior, ABA has recently made considerable progress (Fitzer & Sturmey, 2008; Sturmey, 2008b).

Our studies have evaluated the effects of lag schedules on the verbal behavior of children with autism. Lag schedules may be effective in increasing variability in verbal behavior in children with autism (Lee & Sturmey, 2006*, in review; Lee et al., 2007). Novel verbal behavior emerges in the context of other behavior, thus, we have also investigated the effects of interventions based on concurrent operants. Two studies have found that changing the schedule for an existing response may increase concurrent vocal mands (Bernstein & Sturmey 2008; Bernstein, Brown & Sturmey in press). We have also evaluated a procedure to chain and shape responses in previously non-verbal young children with autism spectrum disorders to teach them to emit vocal mands (Thomas, Lafasakis & Sturmey, in preparation).

Future Research
Behavioral research in language in children with disabilities is a very broad field with many unanswered questions. Verbal operants other than mands depend upon generalized conditioned reinforcers, usually attention from adults. However, attention often does not function as a reinforcer for many children with autism. Procedures to establish adult attention as a secondary reinforcer and the subsequent effect of this procedure on the acquisition of verbal operants reinforced by adult attention is a highly important question that has not been researched. Like other areas of ABA, research on teaching staff and parents to conduct evidence-based teaching is also important.


We have also conducted several studies related to choice making. Watanabe and Sturmey (200*) found that when adults with autism selected the order of their own activities that their engagement subsequently increased. Reyer and Sturmey (in preparation also found that client choice of leisure activities was influenced by deprivation and satiation. We have also conducted some simple skills training interventions, such as teaching adults with autism to surf the web (Jerome & Sturmey, *).

Reduction of restrictive procedures such as restraint is an important contribution that ABA can make to services. Recently, I analyzed national data from England showing that restraints are used quite often and sometimes very often in community services in some service units and for some clients (Sturmey, in review a). Further, restraint use is often dependent on social context, such as interaction with staff or task demands (Finn & Sturmey, in preparation). This research has lead to the preparation of a special issue of the Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities on this topic (Sturmey, in press b). Future research should focus on evidence-based practices to promote alternative intervention strategies and to safely reduce restrictive procedures. 


Mainstream clinical psychology has rejected behaviorism in favor cognitive-behavioral and eclectic models. Yet, behaviorism has been interested in clinical psychology from at least the 1950s and recently the field of clinical behavior analysis has blossomed. I have published a number of books reviewing the application of ABA to wide range of DSM disorders (Sturmey, 2007*) and to clinical case formulation (Sturmey, 2008 *, in press). I am currently editing two large volumes on evidence-based practice and clinical psychology with Michel Hersen, which Wiley USA will publish.
ABA should make contributions to clinical psychology in areas such as Skinnerean approaches to self-regulation and mental health, behavioral assessment of anxiety and depression, analyzing the learning processes that may underlie new behavioral interventions such as Assertiveness and Commitment Therapy, and training mental health staff to conduct evidence-based practices accurately.


Keeping appointments is important, but many of us do so badly. Watanabe and I have conducted a number of studies on behavioral approaches to appointment keeping (Watanabe & Sturmey, 2008). We have found that appointment keeping is a function of the time between making an appointment and the appointment itself and reminders (Watanabe & Sturmey, in preparation a, b). Just for fun, Dib and Sturmey (2007) used behavioral skills training to teach correct posture to young children learning the flute. It worked! Also for fun, I have collaborated with Professor Lanny Fields on application of stimulus equivalence training to teaching psychology undergraduates statistical concepts (Fields, Travis, *, & Sturmey, in press).


The City University of New York, through PSC-CUNY grants, The New York State Developmental Disabilities Council and The New York State Department of Special Education have all funded out research.


I welcome both undergraduate and graduate students. Every semester I have several undergraduates who typically work closely with Doctoral students usually scoring videotapes of teaching procedures with children with autism. Undergraduates can register for 393 credit. I prefer students have at least a 3.0 GPA overall and in psychology; good basic math and writing skills, some personal experience related to developmental disabilities and who are focused and reliable. I also welcome both General Masters students and Doctoral students to do research with me. Potential students should be interested in conducting research in line with the areas described above.

Selected Publications:

   Sturmey, P. & Hersen, M. (Eds., in preparation.) Handbook of Evidence-based Practice in Clinical Psychology. Volume 1. Children and Adolescents. Volume 2. Adults. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley USA).

   Sturmey, P. (2008). Behavioral case formulation and intervention. A functional analytic approach. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell).

   Sturmey, P. (2008). How to teach verbal behavior. Austin, TX: Proed Inc.

   Fitzer, A. & Sturmey, P. (2008). Applied Behavior Analysis and Language Acquisition in People with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Austin, TX: Proed Inc.

   Sturmey, P. & A. Fitzer, A. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysisin People with Autism Spectrum Disorders Austin, TX: Proed Inc.

   Jerome, P. & Sturmey, P. (2008). Reinforcing efficacy of interactions with preferred and nonpreferred staff under progressive-ratio schedules. Journal of Applied Behavior  Analysis, 41, 221-225.

   Jerome, J., Frantino, E. P. & Sturmey, P. (2007). The effects of errorless learning and   backward chaining on the acquisition of internet skills in adults with developmental disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40, 185-189.

   Lafasakis, M.  & Sturmey, P. (2007) Training parent implementation of discrete-trial teaching: Effects on generalization of parent teaching and child correct  responding. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40, 685-689.

   Dib, N. & Sturmey, P. (2007). Reducing student stereotypy by improving teachers’ implementation of discrete-trial teaching. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40, 339-343.

   Randi A. Sarokoff & Peter Sturmey (2004). The effects of behavioral skills training on staff implementation of discrete-trial teaching. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 535-538.

   Lavie, T., & Sturmey, P. (2002). Training staff to conduct a paired-stimulus preference assessment. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35, 209-211.