Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Interactions of Contingencies, Instructional Accuracy, and Instructional History in Conditional Discrimination

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Interactions of Contingencies, Instructional Accuracy, and Instructional History in Conditional Discrimination

Article excerpt

A variety of human behaviors are acquired through instructions. The acquisition and maintenance of instruction-following have been studied in the operant laboratory (Baron & Galizio, 1983; Buskist & Miller, 1986; Catania, Matthews, & Shimoff, 1982) and in applied settings (Ayllon & Azrin, 1964). In a procedure frequently used by operant researchers, instructions specifying the type of behavior required to contact some reinforcement contingency are provided to human subjects. After the subjects have adjusted their behavior to both the instruction and the current reinforcement contingency, the reinforcement requirement is altered. In such conditions, subjects tend to respond in agreement with the instructions instead of adjusting their behavior to the changed contingencies. Such insensitivity to the changing contingencies has often (e.g., Baron & Galizio, 1983; Chase & Danforth, 1991), but not always (Lefrancois, Chase, & Joyce, 1988; Michael & Bernstein, 1991), been documented.

To explain such phenomena, Baron and Galizio (1983) have suggested a twofold effect of reinforcing instruction-following behavior: The particular behavior specified by the instruction is reinforced, but instruction-following as a class is also strengthened. Reinforcement is thus supposed to have two effects on the acquisition and maintenance of instructional control: First, a molecular effect consisting in an increased probability of a response in the presence of the instruction (conceived as a discriminative stimulus); second, a molar effect consisting in the strengthening of other responses in the presence of other discriminative stimuli of the same class. Baron and Galizio's argument (1983) implies a corresponding distinction between the molecular and molar discriminative functions of instructions.

Okoguchi (1999) attempted to demonstrate the discriminative function of instructions in the following way. Subjects were first exposed to a multiple schedule with two components, a fixed ratio schedule (FR) and differential reinforcement of low rate schedule (DRL). In the FR component, the subjects were instructed to respond slowly; in the DRL component, the subjects were instructed to respond rapidly. In the presence of the instruction to respond slowly, subjects responded rapidly, presumably because of the FR schedule; in presence of the instruction to respond rapidly, subjects responded slowly, presumably because of the DRL schedule. This difference in response rate then transferred to a third, fixed-interval schedule. Okoguchi concluded that differential reinforcement controlled behavior even when the instruction contradicted the programmed contingencies, and he suggested that instructions that are structurally identical can be functionally different (Okoguchi, 1999, p. 213). Okoguchi also demonstrated that instructional and reinforcement histories are important in determining the discriminative function of instructions.

Degrandpre and Buskist (1991) showed that instruction-following was highly correlated with the accuracy of the instructions. If accuracy was equal to 100%, then high levels of instruction-following were exhibited; if accuracy was equal to 50%, then moderate levels of instruction-following were exhibited; highly inaccurate instructions occasioned low levels of instruction-following. Similarly, variability in instruction-following was related to how consistent the instructions were. Degrandpre and Buskist (1991) suggested that reinforcement history and reinforcement contingencies play a role in instruction-following.

Conditional discrimination procedures also have proven useful in the analysis of instructional control. A matching-to-sample procedure, in particular, can be useful to study the discriminative functions of instructions (Martinez & Ribes, 1996). The correct response in matching to sample depends on trial-by-trial variations in the sample and comparison stimuli that exemplify a general, constant relation such as identity or oddity. …

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