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J Exp Anal Behav. 1987 Mar;47(2):159-75.

Stimulus class membership established via stimulus-reinforcer relations.


In an arbitrary matching-to-sample procedure, two mentally retarded subjects learned conditional discriminations with two sets of stimuli. Each set included a spoken name (N1 or N2), an object (O1 or O2), and a printed symbol (S1 or S2). One subject selected conditionally (a) O1 upon N1, and O2 upon N2, and (b) S1 upon O1, and S2 upon O2. The other subject selected conditionally (a) S1 upon N1, and S2 upon N2, and (b) O1 upon S1, and O2 upon S2. For both subjects, selections of O1 and S1 produced one type of food, F1; selections of O2 and S2 produced a different type of food, F2. Both subjects also learned identity-matching performances, selecting O1, O2, S1, S2, F1, and F2 conditionally upon those stimuli as samples; F1 followed selections of O1, S1, and F1; F2 followed selections of O2, S2, and F2. Matching performances consistent with stimulus class formation involving the names, objects, symbols, and foods were demonstrated on probe trials, even though these performances had not been taught explicitly. Next, new objects, X1 and X2, were presented on identity-matching trials, producing F1 and F2, respectively. Without further training, X1 was selected conditionally upon N1, S1, and O1, and X2 was selected upon N2, S2, and O2. When the contingencies were changed so that selections of X1 and X2 were now followed by F2 and F1, respectively, X2 was selected conditionally upon N1, S1, and O1, and X1 was selected upon N2, S2, and O2. Class membership of X1 and X2 had apparently changed. This study provides evidence that reinforcers may become members of stimulus classes, and that new stimuli may become class members through relations with reinforcers.

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