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Derived Relational Responding and Transformations of Function in Children: A Review of Applied Behavior-Analytic Journals


Theoretical extensions of Skinner’s verbal behavior that emphasize derived relational responding (stimulus equivalence, relational frame theory, and bidirectional naming) can improve the complexity and scope of applied behavior-analytic training models with children. We evaluated the prevalence and content of empirical research on derived relational responding in children within 8 major applied behavior-analytic journals. We identified 123 empirical articles that met all inclusion criteria (i.e., they demonstrated derived relational responding in children). Whereas prior citation analyses have shown higher rates of research with adult participants, considerable research within these journals has involved child participants. In addition, 55% of the research targeted socially relevant or culturally established verbal relations, rather than culturally arbitrary relations (e.g., unknown symbols, consonant-vowel-consonant combinations) that are unlikely to affect real-world behavior. Generalization and transformation tests were also present in 47% of articles. We also conducted a content analysis of all articles that contained culturally relevant relations and demonstrated generalization or transformation of stimulus function (21% of all articles, N = 26); we argue that studies that meet these criteria are likely to be the most immediately impactful for learners. Results suggest that future research is needed to evaluate relational frames other than coordination (e.g., distinction, opposition), as well as to extend considerably the complexity of target relational classes and transformations of stimulus function with children.

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  1. Theory, used here and throughout, describes the extrapolation of established empirical principles to account for or explain untested events consistent with an inductive approach to the scientific method (Skinner, 1950).


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Correspondence to Jordan Belisle.

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Belisle, J., Paliliunas, D., Lauer, T. et al. Derived Relational Responding and Transformations of Function in Children: A Review of Applied Behavior-Analytic Journals. Analysis Verbal Behav 36, 115–145 (2020).

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  • Bidirectional naming
  • Relational frame theory
  • Stimulus equivalence
  • Verbal behavior