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The role of evaluative learning in positive or negative psychological function

Evaluative conditioning or learning occurs when individuals come to perceive something as positive or negative through an association. EU-funded research conducted a series of experiments to advance knowledge on this topic.
The role of evaluative learning in positive or negative psychological function
Implicated in the development of preferences and aversions, evaluative learning is also pegged as playing an important role in the development of various clinical disorders such as depression. The project GEC (A model of generalised evaluative conditioning) extended previous work relating to how psychological functions can be changed through sameness (equivalence) relations.

Researchers examined the potential for developing a model of generalised evaluative functions through a combination of literatures and techniques from evaluative learning and derived relational responding. They investigated how the structure of such classes of functions impacts generalisation and if this transfer of function reliably emerges across non-sameness relations.

The approach was based on the idea that, compared to transfer through relations of sameness alone, such transfer could allow greater and perhaps more varied routes of generalisation of evaluative learning. This is important for modelling behaviours that need to be targeted so as to circumvent the generalisation of negative self-evaluations.

Researchers completed five experiments investigating the transformation of functions via derived stimulus relations. Experiments 1 and 2 focused on schedules of reinforcement that produced related either good or bad causal evaluations that were later categorised with stimuli previously established as having the same function (good or bad) through stimulus equivalence classes. Experiments 3 and 4 explored the transfer of feelings of exclusion and inclusion through stimulus equivalence classes. The fifth experiment employed a non-arbitrary relational training and testing procedure to establish contextual cue functions in arbitrary shape stimuli.

Results from the first four experiments indicate that stimulus equivalence offers a useful theoretical framework for understanding the derived generalisation of negative evaluative judgements – self-efficacy and exclusion, for example. Experiment 5 provided a first demonstration of derived exclusion across relations of opposition – when someone rates themselves as excluded in one task that is then viewed as opposite to another task, then they derive that they will be excluded from the second task as well.

Overall, project findings have generated new knowledge on how stimuli can acquire aversive properties and on factors influencing negative transfer and social exclusion. The work has much to offer in terms of better understanding clinical disorders and thus arriving at more effective approaches to remediation.

Related information


Evaluative learning, psychological function, evaluative conditioning, clinical disorders, stimulus equivalence
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