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In the case of classical conditioning, this involves producing the conditioned
response to stimuli that are similar to the conditioned stimulus, but that were not
present in the original conditioning. In the Pavlovian experiment, dogs may
salivate to a bell with a slightly different tone than the one used during the
conditioning experiment. Generalization occurs if the stimulus is similar enough
to the original conditioned stimulus to evoke the response.
In operant conditioning, generalization occurs when the learner
understands that the consequences for responding to one antecedent stimulus are
the same as the consequences for responding to another similar antecedent
stimulus (Schwartz, 1989). For example, a child may find that he is praised for
labeling an equilateral triangle as a triangle, and that he is also praised for labeling 34 a right triangle as a triangle. Responding by correctly labeling three-sided objects
as triangles earns the reinforcement, and represents an example of generalization.
Discrimination occurs when learners identify two similar stimuli as being
different, and they respond to them differently (Terrace, 1966). To carry the
Pavlovian example further, the dog may not salivate to the sound of playing cards
pinned to the spokes of a bicycle. The noise is distinct enough to be responded to
differently by the dog.
In operant conditioning, discrimination occurs when the learner observes
that reinforcement is associated with responding to one stimulus but not another.
Using the earlier example, the child will get praised for calling a right triangle a
triangle, but will not get praised for calling a square a triangle. Students’ ability to
discriminate between stimuli is an important component of many academic skills
such as learning the verbal labels for different objects, knowing how to respond to
different types of instructions, and concept learning such as distinguishing nouns
and verbs (Green, 2001).
Generalization and discrimination form the basis for an important idea in
operant conditioning called stimulus control. Stimulus control means that
learners’ behaviors are under the control of certain antecedents in their
environment (Bower & Hilgard, 1981; Green, 2001; O’Donnell, Crosbie, Williams, & Saunders, 2000). Stimulus control develops because of learners’
reinforcement history with antecedent stimuli. If a response that is given in the 35 presence of a certain antecedent is reinforced, that response tends to be repeated
when that antecedent or similar stimuli are present in later experiences
(generalization). If a response fails to earn reinforcement when it is cued by an
antecedent stimulus, then that response tends not to be given when that antecedent
or similar stimuli occur in the future (discrimination). In the concept learning
example given above, students will call a three-sided shape a triangle, because
they have been reinforced for this response to these types of antecedents in the
In your classroom, you are going to notice that some students resp...
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This document was uploaded on 03/29/2014 for the course EPS 324 at N. Arizona.
- Spring '08