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Stimulus Control

Stimulus Control of Behavior

Having stimulus control means that the probability of the

behavior varies depending upon the stimuli present.

If a behavior is under stimulus control then

The behavior happens when the stimulus is present
The behavior doesnt happen when the stimulus is absent

Most of our behavior is under stimulus control

A person that contributes to charity generously while in church
may watch every penny spent while at work
Response Strength





1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Stimulus Control
Stimulus Discrimination
Definition: Degree to which antecedent stimuli set
the occasion for particular responses
precise degree of stimulus control
E.g., Man has beard and is Daddy; Man has beard and
is Uncle Eddie

Stimulus discrimination is taught by using

discrimination training procedures such as differential
Stimulus Control
Stimulus Generalization
Definition: When a response is reinforced in the
presence of one stimulus there is a general tendency
to respond in the presence of new stimuli that have
similar physical properties ore have been associated
with the stimulus.
loose degree of stimulus control
E.g., All men with beards are Daddy

Cannot be taught but can plan for it

Development of Stimulus Control
Stimulus discrimination training requires
One behavior
Two antecedent stimulus conditions (the SD and the S)

Responses that occur in the presence of the SD are reinforced

(thus, the response increases in the presence of the SD)

Responses that occur in the presence of the S are not

reinforced (this, the response decreases in the presence of the
Can also result in a lesser amount or quality of reinforcement
Development of Stimulus

Example: Reinforcing a childs saying

red when someone asks Whats your
favorite color? and witholding
reinforcement if they said red when
asked Whats your name?
Whats your
favorite color?

Response: Reinforcer:
red Super! You
said red!
No praise
Whats your
Differential Responding
When a childs behavior comes under the control
of the SD,
We say the SD has acquired stimulus control over the
childs behavior
So the verbal stimulus Whats your favorite color?
gains stimulus control over the response red why?
And the child is discriminating or responding
Stimulus Generalization
When a response is reinforced in the
presence of one stimulus,

But: that same type of behavior

tends to be evoked by stimuli that
share similar physical properties
with that controlling antecedent
Stimulus Generalization
If you teach green using this color circle

Students less most likely Students less
likely to say to say likely to say
green green green
(discriminatio (discrimination)
Stimulus Generalization
Stimulus Generalization is more likely
Stimuli that are highly similar to the original
stimulus are presented.
E.g., similar people, materials, or settings
The more similar the novel person, materials,
and setting are to the training person, materials,
and setting
Discrimination vs.
Essentially opposite processes
As discrimination increases, generalization decreases
As discrimination decreases, generalization increases

Responding differently to 2 or more stimuli
Tight degree of stimulus control

Responding similarly to 2 or more stimuli
Loose degree of stimulus control
Stimulus Discrimination and Stimulus
Generalization are a Continuum

Stimulus Stimulus
Discrimination Generalization

Generally, as the training and test stimuli become more different

responding will decline,
Produces a generalization gradient
Generalization Gradient
Guttman & Kalish (1956)

pigeons reinforced for pecking a
580 nm lit key (orange-yellow)
300 (S+) on a VI schedule

200 A test session was then given

150 where many different colored key
100 lights were presented in extinction
50 S+








Wavelength (nanometers)
Interpreting Generalization Gradients

Pigeons trained to
peck a moderately
bright light (S+) to get

(S- = dim light)

After asymptote is
reached, present
occasional non-
reinforced probe trials
at various wavelengths
or levels of brightness.
Excitatory and
inhibitory gradients
Excitatory gradients form
around the CS+; show
where responding is MOST

Inhibitory gradients also

form; show where
responding is least likely

e.g., Pigeons trained to peck

at a 800 hz tone (S+), with a
500 nm light S-.
Peak Shift
Phenomena where the peak of the
generalization curve shifts AWAY from the
Means that the most responding does not occur
for the S+
But slightly offset from the S+ and away from
the S-
Question is WHY!
Peak Shift Effect Hanson (1959)
1 4

4 is the correct answer

3.9 -1
-1 5
.9 3

Using the last question and correct answer,

which is the best answer?
4 16

Now which is the best answer?

Now which is the best answer?

16 48
8 32
100 400
Spences Theory
Spence: Peak shift occurs because of the
summation of the excitatory and inhibitory
Result is that the most responding is slightly in
favor of the S+
Not as strong of suppression for S-
Thus, get shift away from S-
Just a math phenomenon
Spences Theory to Account for Peak Shift
80 Inhibitory
Inhibitory or Excitatory Strength

-20 S-
490 510 530 550 570 590 610 630 650 670
Wavelength (nanometers)
Interdimensional theory
Kohlers Transposition or Interdimensional
The animal learns a conceptual rule
Not the S- but is the S+
Thus, when given generalization stimuli, take
whatever is the most not S-
Shift away from S+ occurs

Learning a concept: always choose larger or

greener, etc.
Interdimensional discrimination
600 Pseudodiscrim
# Responses

501 530 555 576 606

Discrimination: S+ = 555nm Light; S- = Tone

Test of Theories
Choose between squares:

S+ S- Situation:
100 cm2 60 cm2 original training
250 cm2 150 cm2 Test 1: Spences test
500 cm2 250 cm2 Test 2: Kohlers test
1000 cm2 500 cm2 ??????

Spence's prediction: will choose closest to original S+

Transposition or interdimensional: choose larger
Which is correct?

tests for transposition yield evidence

supporting transposition
tests for generalization yield evidence
supporting Spence
probably: both effects working part of the
So, what is a stimulus?
Any sensory event that elicits a response
A cue that a response contingency is now in place
(or not in place)
A cue that predicts an upcoming event

Establishing a cue
Classically condition (cue to cue)
Operant conditioning: response to reinforcer, then
add predictive cue for contingency
Teaching Stimulus
Discrimination is a fundamental process
that controls behavior.

Discrimination allows us to differentiate

when reinforcement is available for specific
Why Teach Discriminations?
Many essential tasks require discrimination
Labeling Objects.
Following directions.
Following activity schedules.
Greeting people.
Self-care skills.
Basic Problem of Discrimination

Discrimination training teaches learners to

perform a specific response in the presence of
a specific stimulus and not to perform that
response in the presence of other stimuli.
Discrimination Training

Many individuals with developmental disabilities have

difficulty learning discriminations

Stimuli are compound (they consist of different

It may be difficult to control which element(s) of the
stimulus exert control over behavior
We must be careful how we teach and what stimuli
we use!
Stimulus Compounding
All stimuli are compound.
They consist of many different elements.

It is difficult to control which element or

elements of the stimulus exert control over
need to be careful how we teach and what
stimuli we use.
2 Types of Discriminations.
Simple Discriminations.
Non-Conditional Discrimination.

Conditional Discriminations.
Arbitrary Discrimination.
Simple Discrimination
Stimulus is present or not present
One picture on the table thats a cat Say touch
cat and they do

Not very useful for children with autism

That kind of trial becomes stimulus independent
which is what you DONT want to happen
Conditional Discrimination

A response to a given stimulus is followed by a reinforcer if

and only if another stimulus is present

Said another waya stimulus is discriminative for

reinforcement or not, depending on (conditional on) the
presence of another particular antecedent

Often taught via Match-to-Sample procedures

Many programs consist of Identity Matching (matching identical stimuli):

SD/S S/S- S/S-


responds to
one of the
Learner 1st responds to
sample (conditional Sample


Sample (Conditional Sample (Conditional

Stimulus) Stimulus)
Establishing New Forms of
Conditional Stimulus Control
Identity matching (single mode)
Visual: visual
Auditory: auditory

Arbitrary matching (multimodal)

Visual: auditory
Auditory: visual
Auditory: tactile
Arbitrary Matching

Stimuli are not physically identical

Match non-identical visual stimuli
Object to pic, printed word to picture, object to printed
Match auditory stimulus to visual stimulus
(Receptive Identification)
Receptive Picture ID

+ +

flower baby

Sample Sample
Discrimination in the Laboratory.
Many laboratory discrimination procedures have focused
on understanding exactly which stimuli or which aspects
of stimuli control responding.

Several laboratory procedures have been developed that

allow us to isolate these stimulus control factors.
Equivalence Class Formation.
Concept Formation

Definition: Complex stimulus control that

results in generalization within a class of
stimuli and discrimination between classes of
stimuli (Keller & Schoenfeld, 1950).
Two Procedures to Teach Concept Formation:
Simultaneous Discrimination:
Definition: The concurrent presentation of multiple stimuli

Successive Discrimination
Definition: The successive presentation of stimuli

In applied settings, simultaneous discrimination training

should be used why?
The individual has access to all relevant stimulus cues at 1 time
An on the spot comparison of choices is permitted
Produces better generalization (Schroeder & Baer, 1972)
Real World Teaching Procedures.
Real World teaching is more complex than the laboratory.

Suggestions for improving discrimination training

Evaluate stimuli carefully to promote control of relevant
antecedent cues
Rotate stimulus placement randomly
Change auditory stimuli frequently
Be sure that the S+/S- functions of stimuli change
Teach with a variety of stimuli to promote discrimination
between categories (and generalization within categories)

Never, never teach in isolation!!

Stimulus Class
Stimulus Class: set of stimuli that have a
common effect on behavior (evoke the same
response class)

These would probably

be in the same stimulus
class for most people
Concept Formation
Complex stimulus control that results in:
Generalization within a class of stimuli
Discrimination between classes of stimuli
Stimulus Equivalence
Emergence of accurate responding to untrained
and nonreinforced stimulus-stimulus relations
Following the reinforcement of responses to
some stimulus-stimulus relations

3 aspects
Symmetry B C
DO dog
In the absence of training, person selects an
identical stimulus (AKA Generalized identity
Logic isA = A
For example
Without specific training, the person matches
After being taught to match A to B, person can
match B to A (without training)
Logic isIf A = B, then B = A
For example
After being taught to match to DO
Person can match to DO
Critical test for stimulus equivalence if you get transitivity, the
stimuli are members of an equivalence class
After being taught to match A to B and B to C, person can match
A to C (without training)

Logic isIf A = B and B = C, then A = C

For example
After being taught to match
or DOG to dog
Person can match to dog
Factors Affecting the Development of
Stimulus Control

Differential reinforcement with rich schedules of

Preattending Skills
Looking at type of instructor or materials, sitting up tall, no
stereotypy or other misbehavior
Factors Affecting the Development of
Stimulus Control

Stimulus Presentation
Specificity of directions
Should relate to response definition

Opportunity to response
Frequent, active opportunities to respond (active student learning)
correctly leads to higher rates of academic achievement

Pacing of response opportunities

Higher pace often leads to superior performance and less off-task
Factors Affecting the Development of
Stimulus Control
Salience of the stimuli
Influences attention and ultimately the development of
stimulus control

Dependent on the capabilities of an individual, the past

history of reinforcement, and the situation

Multiple intelligences: some respond to instructional

stimuli in the visual modality more than the oral.

This research has generated mixed results but it is

important to rule out sensory deficits and assess modality
Factors Affecting the Development
of Stimulus Control
Masking and overshadowing
Masking even though one stimulus has control over behavior, another
stimulus blocks that control from being expressed
E.g., Student knows answer but wont answer in front of peers

Overshadowing the presence of one stimulus condition interferes

with the acquisition of control by another stimulus
E.g., hallway may be more interesting that teachers presentation
in the front of the classroom

Ways to overcome include to make changes to physical

environment, make instructional stimuli as intense and
centrally located as possible, reinforce behavior in the
presence of the instructionally relevant stimuli
What is a stimulus
Any sensory event that elicits a response
Not necessarily the response you want
Need to know that that rat perceives the

Establishing a cue
Classically condition (cue to cue)
Operant conditioning: response to reinforcer,
then add predictive cue for contingency
Shaping the cue
Need to shape the response to the cue
Introduce the stimulus cue right when the behavior
Not as it is starting, not after
E.g., for a dog to learn sit, not when it is walking, but
when it starts to sit.
BUT: click once the behavior is underway, not when the
behavior is finished
Then, only introduce the cue when the dog is NOT doing the
Give the cue
Get the behavior
Four rules for stimulus control
Behavior occurs immediately upon presentation of
the cue stimulus

Behavior never occurs in absence of stimulus

Behavior never occurs in response to another


No other behavior occurs in response to the stimulus

Transferring stimuli
Once establish one cue, can add a second
cue for the same behavior
Again, use only for THAT behavior
Keep stimuli separate.
E.g., does down mean stop jumping on me or
lie down on the ground?
Prompts used to increase probability that organism
will engage in correct response

Use during discrimination training

SD or S+: in presence of this stimulus, do the behavior
S or S-: in the presence of this stimulus, do NOT do
the behavior

Function of prompts is to produce instance of

correct behavior so it can be reinforced
Types of Response prompts
Response prompts: behavior of another evokes desired response
in presence of SD

Verbal prompts: voice command

Gestural prompts: physical movement or gesture of trainer

Modeling prompts: observe model and imitate (not really used

with rats)

Physical prompts: physically assisting rat to engage in behavior

Types of Stimulus prompts
Stimulus prompts: change in stimulus or addition/removal of
stimulus increases likelihood of desired response in presence of

Within-Stimulus prompts: change the salience of a prompt

Bigger or smaller
Louder or softer
More or less

Extra-stimulus prompts:
Adding a stimulus to increase likelihood of correct discrimination
Picture prompts
Putting line of food pellets for rat to follow
Aversive cues
Use aversive to STOP behavior
E.g., no, a sharp noise, a table slap
Good for dangerous behaviors

Potential downside:
Squelch behaviors
Organism is startled, now wont move
More likely to bite/nip/freeze
Limited holds and anticipation
Limited hold:
Reinforcer only available in a narrow window
Either take it now, or lose it
Often used to avoid stashing or lazy choice
If do behavior, can get reinforcer within x seconds or
less, otherwise lose it.

Anticipatory behaviors occur before the cue

If occur, cancels the trial
Withdraw target stick and even put rat in time out
Behavior chains
One behavior can be a cue for the next response
This is a behavior chain
E.g., run through the tunnel, over the balance beam and then
through the weave poles

Can teach forward chain:

Start with first, then add second, third, etc.
Reinforce after successful behavior for criterion

Or backwards chain:
Start with last response, then next to last, and so on
Reinforce after successful behavior for criterion
May want organism to engage in behavior in
many settings/situations/cues

E.g., go over balance beam on desk or in either

of the two big boxes

Must train so that the cues to which the rat

attends are the ones relevant to the task, not the
Fading prompts
Important to fade prompts
Want behavior to occur to cue only
Shows mastery of behavior:
Behavior flows well
Behavior occurs at high rate (or low rate if that is
Occurs evenly and consistently
Several ways to fade prompts:
Transferring stimulus control
Remove response
Fading prompts
Several ways to fade prompts:
Transferring stimulus control
Remove one stimulus cue, then another
Fading across different types of prompts or fading
across prompts
Least to most: fade least invasive prompt first
Most-to-least fading: fade most invasive prompt first
Prompt delay
Delay the prompt
Increase delay until behavior occurs before prompt
would have been given
example: teach
S+ = red; S- = green

Teaching red vs. green discrimination

S- presented for only 5 or so seconds
S+ presented for 3 minutes
S- begins as unlit (dark) key: pigoens much less likely to peck it

S- gradually fades to green key

human example: teaching MR children sight words
word + picture on slide
gradually fade the picture, leaving only the word
Several important characteristics about
is very effective in reducing number of responses to the S-

improves long term discrimination

Terrace claims not get aggressive behaviors w/fading


S- not develop inhibitory properties- thus eliminates peak

shift effect

not get behavioral contrast