Psychological Research

, Volume 59, Issue 2, pp 81–93 | Cite as

Influences of task concreteness upon transitive responding in humans

  • Martina Siemann
  • Juan D. Delius
Original Article


The derivation of the conclusion “Anna is bigger than Mary” from the premises “Anna is bigger than Paul” and “Mary is smaller than Paul” is considered an instance of transitive deduction. For a non-verbal presentation, the premise statements were here transformed into a multiple operant discrimination task. Adult subjects were trained with overlapping pairs of a six-member stimulus series (A+B−, A+C−, C+D−, D+E−, E+F−; +: choice rewarded, choice penalized). A computer game-type presentation that hid the actual problem structure from the subjects was employed. The effects of varying the presentation style of the task on the objective performance and the structure awareness of subjects were investigated. A first experiment used random polygons as stimuli and the relations between them were only signalled by the above reinforcement allocations. In a second experiment the stimuli were cartoon figures additionally involved in a dominance hierarchy that was suggested graphically. A third experiment used named items that were related through visible size differences in addition to the reinforcement allocations but was otherwise like an experiment using an abstract format reported by Werner et al. (1992). In all experiments a similar proportion of subjects responded transitively when subsequently tested with the pairs BD, BE and CE by preferentially choosing stimulus B or C. Each subject subsequently filled in a questionnaire, completed a stimulus ordering exercise, and was interviewed to find out whether they were explicitly aware of the stimulus hierarchy underlying each of the tasks. Although the proportion of subjects revealing an explicit transitive responding increased together with the concreteness of the stimuli and their relations across the experiments, the objective performance in terms of choice accuracy did not vary. The accuracy performance on tests could be accurately simulated with a modification of a simple conditioning model. It is concluded that an implicit mode of processing may underlie many instances of transitive responding in humans even when explicit task understanding is reported.


Objective Performance Dominance Hierarchy Choice Accuracy Presentation Style Stimulus Series 
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Copyright information

© Springer-verlag 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martina Siemann
    • 1
  • Juan D. Delius
    • 1
  1. 1.Allgemeine PsychologieUniversität KonstanzKonstanzGermany

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