Psychology Learning Resources
Murray Sidman and Stimulus Equivalence

Concept Definition: Reflexivity

Important characteristics of reflexivity:

  • An untrained relation between a stimulus (A) and itself.
  • Based on the property of sameness.
  • Training and testing occurs in a match-to-sample paradigm.
  • A learner is said to have acquired the reflexive relation when he or she reliably selects a comparison stimulus that is physically identical to the sample stimulus.
  • Summarized by the equation A = A.

Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair

Nonexample

A young child, Lois, is learning how to read. On some learning trials, her teacher first says the name of an object (e.g., "radio"), and then he lays three picture cards on the table. Lois is told to choose the picture (e.g., radio illustration) that goes with the spoken word. On other learning trials, her teacher first shows her one of the picture cards and then he puts three word cards on the table. Lois is told to choose the printed word (e.g., radio) that goes with the picture. Later, after the first two tasks are mastered, Lois is taught yet another task. Her teacher first shows her one of the word cards (e.g., radio); then, he places all three word cards on the table and tells Lois to select the one goes with it (e.g., "correct" choice would be the printed word radio). Eventually she also masters this third task. All correct responses by Lois are praised by her teacher.

Example

A young child, Lois, is learning how to read. On some learning trials, her teacher first says the name of an object (e.g., "radio"), and then he lays three picture cards on the table. Lois is told to choose the picture (e.g., radio illustration) that goes with the spoken word. On other learning trials, her teacher first shows her one of the picture cards and then he puts three word cards on the table. Lois is told to choose the printed word (e.g., radio) that goes with the picture. All correct responses on these learning trials are praised by her teacher. Later, after the first two tasks are mastered, Lois is tested on another task. Her teacher first shows her one of the word cards (e.g., radio); then, he places all three word cards on the table and tells Lois to choose the one that goes with it (e.g., "correct" choice would be the printed word radio). Lois performs perfectly on this third task, even though her teacher did not prompt or praise her correct answers.

Analysis

The first item is not an example of reflexivity. Lois was taught three things. She learned an AB relation, A being the spoken word (e.g., "radio") and B being the picture (e.g., radio illustration). She also learned a BC relation, B being the picture (e.g., radio illustration) and C being the printed word (e.g., radio). And finally, in the third task, she learned how to match a printed word to itself, a BB relation based on the property of sameness. However, her correct responses on this third task were reinforced; thus, the BB relation was directly trained, not emergent.

The second item is an example of reflexivity. Here, Lois' correct responses on the third task were not reinforced. Because Lois was still able to respond perfectly in accordance with the BB relation, it is said to be an emergent relation; that is, her learning of it did not result from direct training.