Michael Cataldo, PhD

Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities
Kennedy Krieger Institute
720 Aliceanna Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
Phone: 443-923-2855
Secondary Phone: 443-923-9250
Email: [email protected]
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Last Updated: August 26, 2013


Project/Program/Clinic Contacts: Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center
Discipline(s): Psychology
AUCD Council Membership: No Council Membership


Michael F. Cataldo, Ph.D.
Director of the Department of Behavioral Psychology, Kennedy Krieger Institute

Michael Cataldo, Ph.D. is the Director of the Department of Behavioral Psychology at Kennedy Krieger Institute. He is also a Professor of Behavioral Biology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland.

Biographical Sketch:

Dr. Cataldo attended the University of Rochester and received a bachelor's degree in Psychology in 1968. He continued his education at the University of Kansas at Lawrence where he received his Master's in Child Development in 1971 and his Ph.D. in Child Development and Psychology in 1974.

Since 1975, Dr. Cataldo has been the Director of the Department of Behavioral Psychology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. He has taught at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine since 1975 and at the University of Maryland since 1984.

Research Summary:

Clinical applications of basic research on learning processes, known as operant learning, have been effective in treating certain problems of child behavior, including severe forms of aggression and self-injury. Studies have shown that operant learning techniques that increase socially adaptive responses, such as cooperation with instructions, can reduce the need for other intrusive and time-consuming interventions. In addition, operant learning techniques can be applied to other situations, such as improving the cooperation of patients undergoing dental treatment, magnetic resonance imaging or receiving treatment in an intensive care unit.

Dr. Cataldo's research has focused on the influence of basic operant training on problems of child health and development. He has shown that behavioral problems in persons with developmental disabilities are functionally related to the environmental consequences of the behaviors. By changing the unit of analysis from discrete behaviors to groups, Dr. Cataldo and his colleagues have established that: 1) the same functional relationships that exist between consequences and discrete behaviors also exist between consequences and groups, or classes, of behaviors; 2) one class of behaviors can be related directly or inversely to another class, so that altering one or a few behaviors of one class alters all behaviors of the other class; 3) cooperation with instructions is a key class of behaviors. Clinical application of this information has shown that by increasing certain socially adaptive responses (e.g., cooperation with instructions) intrusive and time-consuming treatment for aggressive behavior and self-injury can be avoided.

Operant learning influences have also been studied in relation to certain medical problems. Initial work with patients with muscular disorders (cerebral palsy, dystonia musculorm deformans, hemiplegia, etc) led to behavioral treatment for fecal incontinence in children with myelomeningocele as well as for some with feeding disorders. Other applications have included improving patient cooperation with unfamiliar or uncomfortable treatments such as MRI, chemotherapy and dental work. In addition, Dr. Cataldo hypothesized that the behavior of children in intensive care units reflected a condition suppression phenomenon. By manipulating positive events in the ICU, he observed immediate positive changes in behavior, which indicates that environmental circumstances influenced children's behavior in the ICU, not medical status or psychiatric trauma.

Lastly, working with colleagues in ambulatory care and public health, Dr. Cataldo has shown that operant approaches to child behavior and some medical problems can not only improve outcomes for patients but can also reduce utilization of subsequent medical care.


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