Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


42nd Annual Convention; Downtown Chicago, IL; 2016

Event Details

Previous Page


Invited Paper Session #536
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

Emergent Relations and Stimulus Class Formation

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
4:00 PM–4:50 PM
Lucerne, Swissotel
Area: SCI; Domain: Basic Research
Instruction Level: Basic
CE Instructor: Thomas Zentall, Ph.D.
Chair: Thomas Zentall (University of Kentucky)
PETER URCUIOLI (Purdue University)
Peter Urcuioli is Professor of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University. He received his undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of New Hampshire where he worked with John A. (Tony) Nevin, and his Master's degree and Ph.D. in experimental psychology at Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada) where he was a graduate student of Werner K. (Vern) Honig. After a two-year postdoctoral stint with Anthony (Tony) Wright at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston, Peter joined the Purdue University faculty in 1981. His research has been funded almost continuously by the NIH and NSF since 1983, and he has over 70 peer-reviewed articles in a wide variety of journals on topics in the areas of discrimination learning and stimulus control, differential outcome mechanisms, animal memory, spatial compatibility, and acquired equivalence. His most recent, groundbreaking work on stimulus-class formation in pigeons has revealed a wide range of rarely and never-before-seen categorization effects in non-human animals. In addition, Peter has proposed an innovative theory of stimulus-class formation that explains and predicts these effects from basic assumptions about stimulus control and reinforcement processes.

The ability to categorize physically dissimilar stimuli such as objects, words, etc., is characteristic of normal intellectual development. Categorization is evident in the emergence of “untrained” behavior and novel stimulus control relations after explicit training on other relations. It is also an ability that does not require language, as Dr. Urcuioli's research shows. After highlighting the long-recognized importance of categorization and equivalence in behavior theory, the presentation will describe how sets of interchangeable stimuli (viz., stimulus classes) can develop from conditional discrimination training in pigeons. Class formation is inferred from pigeons’ subsequent ability to respond in a class-consistent manner to new combinations of the baseline stimuli, including derived stimulus-stimulus relations rarely seen in non-human animals (e.g., associative symmetry). The presenter will also describe his theory of stimulus class formation (Urcuioli, 2008) which emphasizes the reinforcement contingencies of training, proper identification of the functional stimuli, and the combinatorial effect of the same functional stimuli in different trained relations. The theory successfully explains the conditions under which emergent relations have, and have not been, observed and accurately predicts a variety of novel equivalence-like relations.

Target Audience:

Licensed Psychologists, certified behavior analysts, graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, the participant will be able to: (1) describe what constitutes an emergent relation and a stimulus class, the types of reinforced training experiences from which they develop, and how class formation is demonstrated; (2) recognize the importance of equivalence and stimulus class formation in behavior analysis and theory dating back to the 1930s; (3) cite newly demonstrated equivalence effects in animals without language, and the reinforcement and stimulus control assumptions of a theory that explains these effects.



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh