Verbal Behavior and Learning: Problems and Processes: Proceedings

By Charles N. Cofer; Barbara S. Musgrave | Go to book overview
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occurs prior to correct performance. This question reflects the crucial point of disagreement between the incremental and all-or-none positions. Empirical answers have, perhaps inevitably, been based on comparisons among items which are acquired at different rates under constant conditions of practice. Thus, item selection was entailed by the formulation of the experimental questions. The resulting bias has often made it difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a clear-cut interpretation of the facts. Standardization of materials for difficulty may help, but norms of extremely high reliability will be required if precise quantitative predictions about the rate of associative growth are to be tested. Deductions from a particular conceptual model about the probable or possible consequences of item selection are not in the long run a satisfactory substitute for experimental control over this variable. The development of new designs which avoid the problem of item selection altogether would constitute a major methodological step toward the resolution of the present issue.The discussion has also been hampered by the fact that deductions from highly specific models have been used to test the implications of the incremental conception in its broadest sense. For example, the analysis of joint probabilities in the RTT experiment follows from the premises of the linear model in statistical learning theories. The relationship between this analysis and the deductions which follow from such incremental theories as Hull's remains to be explored. As we have emphasized, the concept of response threshold has not been considered in the derivation of predictions which are said to follow from incremental theory. Yet this concept is not only of central importance in Hull's theoretical system but is assumed explicitly or implicitly by many investigators who accept an incremental interpretation of associative growth but are not committed to any formal theoretical model. The incremental position which is part of the warp and woof of much of contemporary learning theory takes too many forms to be testable by a single experimental paradigm. Theories die hard, and crucial experiments are rarely successful in psychology. To the extent that the current controversy has led to an increasingly careful examination of the details of the learning process, it has served a useful purpose.
REFERENCES
Clark L. L., Lansford, T. G., & Dallenbach, K. M. ( 1960) Repetition and associative learning. Amer. J. Psychol., 73, 22-40.
Estes W. K. ( 1960) Learning theory and the new "mental chemistry." Psychol. Rev., 67, 207-228.
Estes W. K. ( 1961) New developments in statistical behavior theory: Differential tests of axioms for associative learning. Psychometrika, 26, 73-84.

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