Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Verbal Establishing Stimuli: Testing the Motivative Effect of Stimuli in a Derived Relation with Consequences

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Verbal Establishing Stimuli: Testing the Motivative Effect of Stimuli in a Derived Relation with Consequences

Article excerpt

The present study examined whether the presentation of stimuli in equivalence relations with consequences increases the operant behavior that produces these consequences. In Experiment 1, both normal words and experimentally trained equivalence stimuli did so with young children. In Experiment 2, results were similar with college students. Here, a computer-based task was used, pitting discriminative control established within the experiment against the possible motivative effect of stimuli in equivalence relations with consequences of known impact. Results suggest that such stimuli function as verbal establishing stimuli.

Behavior analysts have been using the concept of establishing operations (EO) for over 50 years (e.g., Dougher & Hackbert, 2000; Keller & Schoenfeld, 1950; Leigland, 1984; Michael, 1982), but few empirical studies continue the topic beyond those of deprivation and aversive stimulation (Anderson, Hawkins, Freeman, & Scotti, 2000; Dougher & Hackbert, 2000). Process accounts of EOs (particularly conditioned EOs) remain speculative and largely untested empirically. Explanations include contiguity (Michael, 1993b), function alteration (Schlinger & Blakely, 1987; Zettle & Hayes, 1982), and correlations between stimuli and time to reinforcement (McDevitt & Fantino, 1993; McPherson & Osborne, 1986, 1988), among others. Empirical investigation of conditioned establishing operations is procedurally difficult, because no method has been widely accepted for distinguishing conditioned establishing stimuli from discriminative stimuli (McDevitt & Fantino, 1993).

The present approach explores implications of the idea that contacting the sensory or other direct functions of a consequential event (e.g., sight, flavor, texture, aroma) will function as an establishing operation and thus will strengthen operants that give rise to that consequence. This study is, by no means, a comprehensive account of EOs; however, several findings in the behavior analytic literature suggest that it might be one avenue for their establishment. For example, reinforcer sampling, with pre-session exposure to an actual reinforcer (Allyon & Azrin, 1968a, 1968b), has a known motivational effect. Contact with stimuli reliably associated with the completion of appetitive schedules increases responding during extinction (Skinner, 1938). The current study may represent a similar process, since the pairing of these schedules with consequences should give these stimuli conditioned stimulus properties.

Perhaps the largest body of evidence comes from studies showing that in a classical conditioning procedure, a conditioned stimulus (e.g., bell), previously paired with an unconditioned stimulus (e.g., food), can increase operant responding if the unconditioned stimulus also functions as the reinforcer in the operant situation (Estes, 1943; 1948; 1949a; 1949b; Skinner, 1936; Morse & Skinner, 1958; Overmier, Bull, & Trapold, 1971; Overmier & Lawry, 1979; Rescorla & Colwill, 1989). Such an effect cannot be discriminative because the conditioned stimulus was never related to the differential availability of the reinforcer given a particular type of operant response. It appears instead to be motivative. Such findings raise an interesting possibility in the area of relational frames (Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001).

A substantial body of literature shows that the functions of events in a relational network can be transformed, in some contexts, based on their derived relations with other events in that network (Barnes, Brown, Smeets, & Roche, 1995; Dymond & Rehfeldt 2000; Hayes & Barnes & Keenan, 1993; Hayes, Kohlenberg, & Hayes, 1991). This transformation of stimulus functions via derived stimulus relations, has been empirically demonstrated with several different behavioral functions, including conditioned reinforcement (Barnes et al., 1995; Hayes et al. …

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