Academic journal article The Psychological Record

An Integrative Approach to Learning Processes: Revisiting Substitution of Functions

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

An Integrative Approach to Learning Processes: Revisiting Substitution of Functions

Article excerpt

Several research studies have shown that stimulus-stimulus (S-S) relations are sufficient to describe a variety of human and animal behaviors that have been traditionally explained by reinforcement contingencies (Delgado and Hayes 2011; Delgado and Medina 2011; Delgado et al. 2011; Leader et al. 1996; Rehfeldt and Hayes 1998; Tonneau and Gonzalez 2004; Tonneau et al. 2006). In the first part of this paper, we refer to some of this evidence and briefly discuss its associated theoretical implications. Based on these arguments, we examine the generality of substitution of functions beyond its operation in psychological events involving S-S relations. We do so by showing that when descriptions of contingency relations include all of the response and stimulus functions involved, distinctions between respondent and operant relations may be an artifact of our investigative procedures. Following this, we turn to the specific applicability of the notion of substitution for the explanation of psychological events of the R-S type (operant contingencies), and we discuss the conditions under which substitution may occur in these cases. Finally, we conclude that bidirectional relations are sufficiently supported by empirical research and are conceptually consistent with the notion of function transfer or stimulus substitution as to constitute the underlying foundation of all learning processes (Delgado and Hayes 2013).

Current research in Pavlovian conditioning of human complex behavior has shown that, as Rescorla once affirmed, "Pavlovian conditioning is not what we think it is" (Rescorla 1988). More specifically, Pavlovian conditioning is no longer restricted to the study of the conditioned reflex or limited to the participation of a biologically relevant stimulus; rather, it may be better characterized as the study of S-S associations', whereby given a history of contiguous and contingent presentations of stimuli, substitution of functions may be observed for responses to both of the stimulus objects involved (e.g., De Houwer et al. 2002; Denniston et al. 1996; Delgado and Hayes 2013; Delgado and Medina 2011; Delgado and Hayes 2013; Tonneau 2001; Tonneau and Gonzalez 2004).

In addition, the signalizing function of the conditioned stimulus (CS) appears to be a causal interpretation of the relation between two events that are presented contingently, contiguously and in a specific order for a number of trials. In particular, research on evaluative conditioning (Walther 2002; Walther et al. 2005), cue competition effects in humans (De Houwer et al. 2002; Glautier 2002; Wilson and Alexander 2008), and respondent stimulus equivalence (Delgado and Medina 2011; Delgado et al. 2011; Leader and Barnes-Holmes 2000; Leader et al. 1996; Tonneau and Gonzalez 2004) suggests that the notion of function transfer adequately describes the outcomes of these non-causal types of stimulus relations (Delgado and Hayes 2013).

In the operant literature, equivalence relations have been described as emergent or derived (Sidman 1994; Sidman and Tailby 1982), for lack of an explanation as to why these relations are observed in the absence of reinforcement (i.e., direct training). However, referring to these findings as "generalized relating," as Relational Frame Theory (RFT) suggests (Hayes et al. 2001), leaves the first occurrence of such generalized relating unexplained (Tonneau and Gonzalez 2004), and thereby does little more than give the occurrence of emergent relations a new name. Incidentally, Sidman (2000) makes this same critique with respect to the notion of function transfer. Nonetheless, accounts based on the notion of function transfer (Delgado and Hayes 2013; Hayes 1992; Tonneau 2001, 2002; Tonneau and Gonzalez 2004), seem to offer more explanatory value than more mainstream operant approaches. Function transfer accounts have attempted to describe derived relations by way of substitution of stimulus functions occurring under particular circumstances of event correlations. …

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