Transitivity as Skinnerian problem solving controlled by self-constructed relational stimuli

J Exp Anal Behav. 2018 Nov;110(3):451-473. doi: 10.1002/jeab.473. Epub 2018 Oct 1.


In tests of the derivation of complex relations such as transitivity, extant cues might fail to evoke effective responding, necessitating the construction of supplemental stimuli prior to their solution. The significance of this process was investigated by within-subject manipulation of an instructional variable designed to produce different levels of construction of supplemental stimulation concerning relationships among stimulus elements of concatenated conditional discriminations. In two experimental sessions, serial training of three 5-member stimulus classes occurred, either with the instruction to simply name the component stimuli or to both name them and generate a tale serially linking the stimuli named; such constructed stimuli might be spontaneously reconstructed by precurrent acts in subsequent tests of "emergent" relations. Participants whose supplemental stimulus construction at the first session was limited to name-giving derived significantly more relations when, in training at session two, they generated tales linking stimulus elements; this same near-errorless derivation was obtained at the first session whenever relational stimuli beyond bidirectional naming were constructed. In some cases the uninstructed construction of supplementary relational stimuli occurred at the first session, to equivalent effect; such construction might constitute a typically unobserved component of the derivation of relations among stimulus elements entailed in multiple conditional discriminations.

Keywords: bidirectional naming; constructed discriminative stimulus; derived relational responding; descriptive autoclitic; human beings; stimulus equivalence; supplemental stimulation.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Problem Solving*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Time Factors