Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

A Further Experimental Step in the Analysis of Hierarchical Responding

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

A Further Experimental Step in the Analysis of Hierarchical Responding

Article excerpt

A typically developed young student is able to organize the category animals into different groups according to many contextual cues. For example, if the cue is "oviparous animals," animals as eagle, snake, pigeon or lizard are categorized as different from others animals grouped under the cue "mammals." In addition, the members of the category "oviparous animals" can be grouped into smaller subgroups according to other contextual cues such as "flying" or "crawling animals." In the latter case, eagle and pigeon will be grouped as different from snake and lizard. As well, these animals can be grouped differently on the basis of other contextual cues (e.g., "fast or slow animals").

The previous example shows a flexible grouping of stimuli into different networks based on their specific functional properties and features. This grouping is referred to as contextually controlled classification or hierarchical classification (Bush, Sidman & de Rose, 1989; DeRosse & Fields, 2010). Hierarchical networks are established on the basis of a higher inclusive characteristic that is shared by all members of the group. For instance, the most inclusive context of the hierarchy "animals" may be identified with the property of heterotrophic and multicellular organisms. Accordingly, all of its members share these features although, as in the previous examples, they can be organized in different ways according to different contextual cues or functions.

To date, little is known with regard to the conditions under which the repertoire of hierarchical classification is established. From the functional contextual framework represented by Relational Frame Theory (RFT; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001; Luciano, Valdivia-Salas, Berens, Rodríguez-Valverde, Mañas, & Ruiz, 2009; Rehfeldt & Barnes-Holmes, 2009), hierarchical classification would have its origins in the multipleexemplar training of contextually controlled patterns of relational responding which are initially based on nonarbitrary relations of inclusion (or is formed by stimuli with common functions) and belonging to (or is a member of X because it shares something with others of its members). For instance, a child soon learns to tact his body parts (e.g., eyes, ears, mouth) as elements of his body. He also learns that, although each of these parts has their own functional properties, they all share something that turns them into parts of the same thing, i.e., his body. Through similar multiple interactions, the repertoire of classifying objects comes under contextual control of the words that are used as hierarchical relational cues for involving or including (e.g., "includes", "has" or "is formed by") and belonging (e.g., "belongs to," "is a member of" or "is in"). Subsequently, these hierarchical cues will be brought to bear in additional arbitrary and complex ways (e.g., like a particular family that is formed by the parents, siblings, uncles, etc, for example, because of some biological cue) that allows the flexible grouping of the members forming the hierarchical category (e.g., the parents, the siblings, and the uncles might be organized in different ways according to specific characteristics like their professions or the kind of things they like). One more example to illustrate this point is the following.

Let's say a child gets scared when he sees a crocodile in the zoo. Later on, his father tells him that crocodiles and snakes belong to a type of animals named reptile. When the father offers the child to go and check the snakes, the child refuses. He might get very excited, however, when approaching the birds, which his father told him "are also animals but not reptile." That is, while both reptiles and birds share the general characteristics of the hierarchy animals as the most inclusive level of the hierarchy (e.g., they breathe, have bodies, are motile, etc.), reptiles have specific functions (e.g., in this example, they are scary) that birds do not share. …

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