Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, Vol. 18, Iss. 3, July, 2014, pp. 277-296
@2014 Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences


The Role of Self-Injury in Behavioral Flexibility and Resilience

David Pincus, Chapman University, Orange, CA
Kiersten Eberle, Chapman University, Orange, CA
Christin S. Walder, Chapman University, Orange, CA
Aaron S. Kemp, University of California, Irvine School of Medicine
Mohammed Lenjav, University of California, Irvine School of Medicine
Curt A. Sandman, University of California, Irvine School of Medicine

Abstract: Severe and persistent self-injurious behavior (SIB) is notoriously difficult to understand and to treat. The current study used self-organization theory to investigate the possible relationship between SIB and changing levels of behavioral flexibility. Data consisted of categorical time-series of sequential behaviors from individuals with developmental disabilities and severe SIB. Orbital Decomposition was used to analyze each series for measures of structure and entropy. Overall, results showed evidence for self-organization in behavior patterns. Second, series including SIB were on average more flexible than those without SIB; while, higher numbers of SIB events (perseveration) were associated with higher behavioral rigidity and structural disintegration. Finally, there was evidence that behavioral flexibility almost always shifts reliably after a discrete bout of SIB, either increasing or decreasing in complexity. Altogether, these results may provide a deeper and more theoretically grounded understanding of the function of SIB beyond the traditional behavioral paradigm involving simple stimulus-response or response-consequence relations. Instead, some behaviors, such as SIB, may serve a resilience-making function as more global regulators of behavioral flexibility and coherence.

Keywords: self-injurious behavior, orbital decomposition, nonlinear dynamics, entropy, fractal, self-organization