The Psychological Record

, Volume 65, Issue 2, pp 323–335 | Cite as

Modeling the Effects of Melanoma Education on Visual Detection: A Gradient Shift Analysis

  • Jonathan R. Miller
  • Derek D. Reed
  • Thomas S. Critchfield
Original Article


Early detection is critical to successful treatment of melanoma, and at-risk individuals often are educated about melanoma by showing them examples of symptom-free and highly symptomatic lesions. We explain why, according to principles of stimulus control, this common practice could discourage the detection of newly developed symptoms and present an experiment modeling the predicted effects. Using images depicting a continuum of melanoma symptom severity, we familiarized participants with a symptomatic lesion (S+), and then conducted generalization tests to determine how often they would label other degrees of symptom severity as the same as (unchanged from) S+. During training for a group that was modeled after typical melanoma education efforts, S- was an asymptomatic lesion. For passive and active control groups, respectively, S- was either absent or a more severely symptomatic lesion. In generalization tests, gradient shift occurred such that stimuli similar to S- were especially unlikely to be called “same.” For the target group, this resulted in reduced labeling of mildly symptomatic lesions as symptomatic. We discuss the implications of these findings for melanoma education efforts.


Generalization Melanoma Skin cancer Stimulus control Translational research 



Portions of this study were completed in partial fulfillment of the first author’s doctoral degree requirements at the University of Kansas. The authors express sincere gratitude to Kathryn Saunders, David Jarmolowicz, Steven Fawcett, and Kimberly Engelman for their comments on the design and analysis of this study.

This investigation was supported by the University of Kansas New Faculty General Research Fund allocation #2302290 and General Research Fund allocation #2301722.


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Illinois State UniversityNormalUSA
  3. 3.Department of Behavioral PsychologyKennedy Krieger InstituteBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Department of Applied Behavioral ScienceUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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