Response Generalization or Stimulus Generalization?

Ask yourself R-Gen or S-Gen?

By Trudy E. Georgio, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA

In Skinner’s selection by consequences he discusses that for selection to operate, and for generalization to occur, variation must be present. Stimulus and response generalization are key factors in how a species adapts and evolves. Stimulus and response generalization occur naturally (and classes are formed) because it is a highly adaptive learning mechanism.  There are, however, sometimes that we may need to explicitly teach them.

Do you have a hard time discriminating between response generalization and stimulus generalization?

Response Generalization

Occurs when topographically different yet functionally similar responses occur in the presence of similar stimuli. We are altering the function here, not the topography.

Pro-tip! Sometimes it helps to swap out the word "responses" for "behaviors". First look for the behaviors that the organism is engaging in, then look for the presence of stimuli.

Many responses, one stimulus

Example: Ike's dog is named Zack. When his mom asks him what kind of animal he is, Ike replies "dog", sometimes he says " pupper", and occasionally he says "canine". (There is one stimulus (Zack), and many responses (labels for dog).

Stimulus Generalization:

Occurs when stimuli that share similar physical characteristics with the controlling stimulus evoke the same behavior as the controlling stimuli. We are altering the topography here, not the function.

Pro-tip! First look for the behaviors that the organism is engaging in, then look for the presence of stimuli. Is the organism engaging in the same behavior with multiple stimuli present?

•Many stimuli, one response

Example: Ike is presented with pictures of a variety of dogs. When his mom asks him what kind of animals they are he says"dogs". (There are many stimuli (breeds of dogs), and one response ("dogs").

Here's how to remember the difference:

When you are presented with a scenario question, plug them into this chart (whiteboard tip!)

"Mutiple Rs= R-Gen" "Multiple Ss= S-Gen"

(Or like I like to say "Lotta Rs= R-Gen"; "Lotta Ss= S-Gen"!)

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What are some examples of response and stimulus generalization regarding items in your kitchen? How can response and stimulus generalization benefit a learner?


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis. Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Keller, F. S., & Schoenfeld, W. N. (1950).Principles of psychology. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts.

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