Academic journal article The Psychological Record

A Function Acquisition Speed Test for Equivalence Relations Faster

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

A Function Acquisition Speed Test for Equivalence Relations Faster

Article excerpt

The Function Acquisition Speed Test (FAST; O'Reilly, Roche, Ruiz, Tyndall, & Gavin, 2012) is an emerging test methodology for assessing participants' histories of relational responding and stimulus relations. The FAST methodology is based on (a) the finding that already-established stimulus relations interfere with the formation of new stimulus relations and (b) the concept of behavioral momentum (Nevin & Grace, 2000).

The FAST requires participants to complete two simple discrimination test blocks. Each block utilizes the same four stimuli: two "test" stimuli related in the participant's history (or suspected to be) and two unrelated novel stimuli. Each trial presents a single stimulus, and participants must learn via corrective feedback whether to respond with a press of the "z" or "m" key on a computer keyboard. In the "consistent" block, the same response (e.g., press "z") is reinforced for both of the test stimuli, and the other response (e.g., press "m") is reinforced for the unrelated stimuli. These responses are consistent with the participants' learning history and so quickly result in stable, high-rate responding. In the second "inconsistent" block, the reinforced responses are inconsistent with the participant's learning history insofar as different responses (press "z" and press "m") are required for each of two previously related stimuli. In effect, the juxtaposition of current and past reinforcement contingencies during the inconsistent block functions as a type of learning disrupter. The current test contingencies need to overcome the behavioral inertia produced by the previous contingencies in order for responding to collie under experimental control and for any learning criteria to be reached. Thus, an acquisition rate difference in trial requirement to criterion is typically observed across the consistent and inconsistent test blocks in the predicted direction (i.e., most test takers reach the response fluency criterion in fewer trials on the consistent block than on the inconsistent block). The FAST, therefore, allows the researcher to identity a history of relating any two classes of stimuli.

In the first published FAST study (O'Reilly et al., 2012), participants completed a simple stimulus matching procedure that established a relation between two nonsense syllables (A1 and B1). Participants then completed a FAST, which utilized A1 and B1 and two novel nonsense syllables as stimuli (N1 and N2). In the consistent block, pressing "z" when presented with A1 or B1 as a stimulus and "m" when presented with N1 or N2 was reinforced. In the inconsistent block, pressing "m" in the presence of A1 and N1 and "z" in the presence of B1 or N2 was reinforced. Thirteen of the 18 participants reached criterion (10 correct responses in a row) more quickly on the consistent block than on the inconsistent block. The remaining five participants showed no difference in acquisition rates across the blocks or very small differences in the unexpected direction. That study provided a simple proof of concept for the FAST methodology. The purpose of the current study is to extend this demonstration by using the FAST to detect and analyze derived relations that have not been previously reinforced. If the FAST is sensitive to such relations, it may prove to be useful in applied research settings in which researchers are interested in determining the existence of derived relations between words in the vernacular (e.g., "African American" and "bad") or experimental stimuli participating in equivalence or other derived relations.

The FAST represents an extension of the stimulus equivalence--based methodology developed by Watt, Keenan, Barnes, and Cairns (1991). That technique measures the interference effects on stimulus equivalence class formation when programmed contingencies are designed to lead to emergent relations containing socially incongruous stimuli. Several studies have utilized the Watt et al. …

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