Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

The Unfolding of the Relational Operant: A Real-Time Analysis Using Electroencephalography and Reaction Time Measures

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

The Unfolding of the Relational Operant: A Real-Time Analysis Using Electroencephalography and Reaction Time Measures

Article excerpt

The phenomenon of derived relational responding is now familiar to many teachers and practitioners of behavior analysis. The methodological details of this phenomenon are dealt with in other papers in this series and it is not our intention to reconsider definitional or procedural matters regarding relational activity. Instead we will report on an empirical study that examines closely the operant nature of relational responding.

The idea that derived relational responding constitutes generalized operant activity is pivotal to Relational Frame Theory (RFT; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001). RFT suggests that young children are routinely exposed to social situations in which explicit reinforcement is available for responding appropriately across a large number of word-object and object-word sequences. For example, children are often engaged by caregivers in object-naming games wherein the child must both name an object appropriately and orient towards the object when given the name (e.g., What is this? Show me the car.) Following a sufficient number of explicitly reinforced exemplars of object-name and name-object relations, a child will be able to reverse a novel nameobject relation without reinforcement (see Barnes-Holmes & Barnes-Holmes, 2000. See also Hayes, Fox, Gifford, Wilson, Barnes-Holmes, & Healy, 2001; Hayes, Gifford, & Wilson, 1996). The precise details of the history required to produce derived relational responding are not crucial to the RFT position on the generalized operant. Rather they are posed as important empirical questions (see Hayes & Wilson, 1996).

Two operant features of derived relational responding that are of particular concern in the present study are its development and generalization to novel stimuli. Limited research has been reported that demonstrates the sensitivity of derived relational responding to reinforcement contingencies (e.g., Healy, Barnes-Holmes, & Smeets, 1998; 2000). In addition some longitudinal research has tracked the emergence of derived relational responding in young children (e.g., Barnes-Holmes, Barns-Holmes, Roche, & Smeets, 2001a; Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, Roche, & Smeets, 2001b; Lipkens, Hayes, & Hayes, 1993). However, no study to date has examined the emergence of derived relational responding in a trial-by-trial analysis across multiple stimulus sets in a discrete laboratory study. Before we outline the current study, however, we must first consider the issue of dependent measures of relational responding.

In order not to confuse the nature of relational phenomena with the measures of relational responding frequently employed, it is important to utilize a wide variety of procedures for evaluating the nature and strength of derived relations (Dymond & Rehfeldt, 2001; L. Hayes, 1992). Relying too closely on any one measure may occlude important discoveries regarding the nature of derived stimulus relations. For instance, several authors have suggested that the development of new measures of derived relational repertoires, other than those based on matching-to-sample and the percentage correct criterion, has been restricted by both the explanatory concept of stimulus classes (e.g., Hayes & Barnes, 1997) and the idea that equivalence is widely considered as a basic stimulus function (see Barnes-Holmes, Hayes, Dymond, & O'Hora, 2001).

Although 'percentage correct' is by far the most common measure of derived relational responding, other creative measures have been reported in the literature (see Dymond & Rehfeldt, 2003). Some researchers (i.e., Dube, Green, & Serna, 1992; Kennedy, 1991) have employed the number of training trials required for particular relations to emerge as a measure, while others have examined participant estimation of reinforcer probability (i.e., Pilgrim & Galizio, 1996). Response latency has also been employed in a number of studies. For example, Bentall, Dickins, and Fox (1993) examined response latency in a study which found that participants took longer to respond to trials for derived relations than to trials for directly trained relations (see also O'Hora, Roche, Barnes-Holmes, & Smeets, 2002; Spencer & Chase). …

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