Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

An Explicit Technology of Generalization

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

An Explicit Technology of Generalization

Article excerpt

The publication of the now classic article on generalization, "An Implicit Technology of Generalization" (Stokes & Baer, 1977), spurred interest in generalization as an active process rather than a passive process consisting primarily of a failure to discriminate between training and nontraining settings. Following their description of nine areas in which the extant behavioral research addressed generalization issues, a new interest in generalization of behavior change was home. More than a decade later, their description of categories of techniques that purportedly could be used to produce generalization was refined in "An Operant Pursuit of Generalization" (Stokes & Osnes, 1989). Stokes and Osnes described 12 general ization-promoting strategies that were classified within three broader areas. Their description assisted the field in continuing to focus interest on the fundamental need for the results of behavioral interventions to generalize effectively and to be durable and for behavioral research to actively address generalization. Now, more than a decade following the publication of "An Operant Pursuit of Generalization" and a quarter century after "An Implicit Technology of Generalization" was published, the time has arrived to address the status of generalization-promotion by behavior analysts, both in their conceptual and empirical investigations.

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The publication of "An Implicit Technology of Generalization" (Stokes & Baer, 1977) resulted in a groundswell of interest in generalization as an active process that is important for behavior analysts to pursue directly to validate the effectiveness of behavioral programming. This classic article embedded in behavior analysis the realization that our work is functional not only when it produces immediate effects in the immediate environment that is targeted for change, but more importantly, when the effects are more widespread. Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968) included generality of behavior change as one of the seven dimensions of applied behavior analysis, and concluded that, "in general, generalization should be programmed, rather than expected or lamented" (p 97). Their description of generality is consistent with the description provided by Stokes and Baer: "A therapeutic behavioral change, to be effective, often (not always) must occur over time, persons, and settings, and the effects of the change sometimes should spread to a variety of related behaviors" (p. 350). While acknowledging that their conceptualization of generalization was not consistent necessarily with the traditional understanding and descriptions of the phenomenon, they proceeded to provide a description of generalization as "... the occurrence of relevant behavior under different, non-training conditions (i.e., across subjects, settings, people, behaviors, and/or time) without the scheduling of the same events in those conditions as had been scheduled in the training conditions,, (Stokes & Baer, p. 350). This description appeared to resonate positively within the behavior analytic community, as evidenced by the embracing of the nine categories of generalization outlined in the article: train and hope; sequential modification; introduce to natural maintaining contingencies; train sufficient exemplars; train loosely; use indiscriminable contingencies; program common stimuli; mediate generalization; train "to generalize". Importantly, not only did the article provide a rubric by which behavior analysts could organize their efforts to achieve broad and durable behavior change, it provided the first exhaustive review of the behavioral literature in regards to the process of generalization.

Although it was a critically-acclaimed seminal effort to organize behavior analysis around a conceptualization of generalization, the interest that was piqued following the publication of the article focused primarily on researchers beginning to note whether or not the effects of their work occurred in generalized circumstances. …

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