Forgetting of stimulus attributes: methodological implications for assessing associative phenomena

Psychol Bull. 1992 Nov;112(3):433-45. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.112.3.433.


Differential responding to changes in the stimulus situation, long central to the concept of stimulus control, also provides the implicit conceptual basis for assessing the nature of a variety of associative relationships. However, there is substantial evidence that the perception of stimulus similarity is not a static property. Generalization gradients to contextual as well as discriminative stimuli flatten over time, and this increase in perceived similarity presumably reflects forgetting of the detailed characteristics or attributes of stimuli. Methodologically, the flattening of the gradient imposes an important constraint: The effect of a stimulus shift will be highly sensitive to the length of the delay interval between training and testing. Conceptually, the loss of memory for stimulus attributes also implies that the sources of interference in retention can increase over time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning*
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Generalization, Stimulus*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall*
  • Retention, Psychology