Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Arbitrarily Applicable Relational Responding and Sexual Catogorization: A Critical Test of the Derived Difference Relation

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Arbitrarily Applicable Relational Responding and Sexual Catogorization: A Critical Test of the Derived Difference Relation

Article excerpt

When a series of conditional discriminations are explicitly trained in a human subject, the stimuli involved often become related to each other in novel ways. For example, if a subject is trained to choose a stimulus, B1, given a second stimulus, A1, and is also trained to choose a third stimulus, C1, given A1, he or she may, without further training, choose A1 given B1 and A1 given C1 (i.e., symmetry), and choose C1 given B1 and B1 given C1 (i.e., combined symmetry and transitivity). When a subject demonstrates this performance the three stimuli are said to participate in an equivalence relation.

Stimulus equivalence has generated considerable research activity in recent years. One reason for this interest is that it provides an empirical and conceptual framework within which to explore human social behavior (e.g., Kohlenberg, Hayes, & Hayes, 1991; Moxon, Keenan, & Hine, 1993; Watt, Keenan, Barnes, & Cairns, 1991). For example, in the Watt et al. study, equivalence procedures were used to investigate social categorization in the context of the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. These researchers used the fact that many people in Northern Ireland respond to each others' names as discriminative for their religious backgrounds. Specifically, Watt et al. trained Northern Irish and English subjects to match three Catholic names to three nonsense syllables, and subsequently to match the three nonsense syllables to three traditionally Protestant symbols. During the equivalence test, subjects were presented with Protestant symbols as samples; the comparisons were two of the Catholic names used during training and a novel Protestant name. All of the English subjects chose the Catholic names (related through equivalence to the Protestant symbols) but 12 of the 19 Northern Irish subjects chose the Protestant name in the presence of the Protestant symbols, thus failing to form laboratory induced equivalence relations. On the basis of these findings, the researchers argued that the social contingencies operating in Northern Ireland were responsible for the nonequivalence responding of the 12 Northern Irish subjects. In other words, only the Northern Irish subjects had been socially trained to respond to Protestant symbols and Catholic names as belonging to socially exclusive (nonequivalent) categories. An important corollary of this interesting result is the demonstration that a person's prior history of social interaction can be revealed using stimulus equivalence procedures. This conclusion has also been supported in the context of sexual stereotyping (Kohlenberg et al.,1991; Moxon et al., 1993).

Although Watt et al. used the stimulus equivalence paradigm with some success in the experimental analysis of human social behavior, these researchers also argued that the basic concepts of stimulus equivalence may not readily capture the entire range of behavioral relations involved in human social categorization. For example, Watt et al. (p. 46) suggested that the different performances of their Northern Irish and English subjects could be interpreted using the concepts of relational frame theory. Although a detailed review of relational frame theory is not appropriate here (but see Barnes, 1994; Barnes & Holmes, 1991; Dymond & Barnes, 1995; Hayes, 1991; Hayes & Hayes, 1989; Steele & Hayes, 1991), we should briefly examine those features of the theory that are most relevant to social categorization.

Most importantly, relational frame theorists have explicitly recognized and have attempted to analyze derived relations other than equivalence. For example, evidence suggests that it is possible for humans to respond in accordance with the relations of opposition and difference, as well as equivalence (Steele & Hayes, 1991). According to relational frame theory, these relations are defined by different behavioral patterns. Equivalence always yields the same derived relations across pairs of stimuli in a set (i. …

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