Skip to main content

Differential Reinforcement in Simple Discrimination Learning in 10- to 20-Month-Old Toddlers


The present study examined two procedures for teaching simple discrimination to six toddlers aged 10- to 20-months. A pair of toys was displayed in the windows of an automated apparatus in each training session. Touching the S+ toy window allowed access to the toy and playing with it. Touching the S toy window produced closure of both windows and the end of the trial. The two procedures varied in exposing the participants to differential reinforcement. In Procedure A, the first choice was always incorrect. In Procedure B, the first four trials were alternating forced choices of the S+ and S. The participants were trained in 10 to 12 discrimination problems. Four toddlers learned four to six problems with both the procedures. The procedures reported in the present study may be applicable to teaching effectively discriminative repertoires to toddlers, older children, and adults with low verbal repertoires.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. Following Feller (1968), the probability of not obtaining c consecutive heads (or equally, tails) when tossing a coin n times [let us call this probability P(n; c)] can be approximated by

    $$ P\left(n,c\right)=\frac{ Bc}{A{c}^{n+1}}, $$

    where Bc and Ac are called Feller’s coin tossing constants and are defined in the following way: Ac is the smallest positive real root of the polynomial

    $$ {x}^{c+1}-{2}^{c+1}x+{2}^{c+2}=0 $$


    $$ Bc=\frac{2- Ac}{c+1-c\times Ac}. $$

    Therefore, the probability of obtaining c consecutive heads in n independent tosses of a fair coin is approximately

    $$ 1-P\left(n,c\right). $$


  • Catania, A. C. (1998). Learning (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cumming, W. W., & Berryman, R. (1965). The complex discriminated operant: Studies of matching-to-sample and related problems. In D. I. Mostofsky (Ed.), Stimulus generalization (pp. 284–330). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dube, W. V., & Serna, R. W. (1998). Re-evaluation of a programmed method to teach generalized identity matching to sample. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 19, 347–379.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Feller, W. (1968). An introduction to probability theory and its applications (3rd ed., Vol. 2). New York: John Wiley and Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frankenburg, K. W., Dodds, J., Archer, P., & Bresnick, B. (1990). Denver II: Technical manual. Denver: Denver Developmental Materials.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gil, M. S. C. A., Oliveira, T. P., Sousa, N. M., & Faleiros, D. A. M. (2006). Variáveis no ensino de discriminação para bebês. Psicologia: Teoria e Pesquisa, 22, 143–152. Retrieved from

    Google Scholar 

  • Gil, M. S. C. A., Oliveira, T. P., & McIlvane, W. J. (2011a). Conditional discriminations by preverbal children in an identity matching-to-sample task. The Psychological Record, 61, 327–340.

  • Gil, M. S. C. A., Sousa, N. M., & de Souza, D. G. (2011b). Dois procedimentos para introduzir reforçamento diferencial no ensino de discriminações simples a bebês. Acta Comportamentalia, 19, 163–182. Retrieved from

    Google Scholar 

  • Kagan, J. (1981). The second year: The emergence of self-awareness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lionello DeNolf, K. M., Barros, R. S., & McIlvane, W. J. (2008). A novel method for teaching the first instances of simple discrimination to nonverbal children with autism in a laboratory environment. The Psychological Record, 58, 229–244. Retrieved from

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lipkens, R., Hayes, S. C., & Hayes, L. J. (1993). Longitudinal study of the development of derived relations in an infant. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 56, 201–239. Retrieved from

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Luciano, C., Gomez-Becerra, I., & Rodriguez-Valverde, M. (2007). The role of multiple-exemplar training and naming in establishing derived equivalence in an infant. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 87, 349–365. doi:10.1901/jeab.2007.08-06.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • McIlvane, W. J., & Stoddard, L. T. (1981). Acquisition of matching-to-sample performances in severe mental retardation: learning by exclusion. Journal of Mental Deficiency Research, 25, 33–48.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Oliveira, T. P., & Gil, M. S. C. A. (2008). Condições experimentais facilitadoras para a aprendizagem de discriminação por bebês. Psicologia: Teoria e Pesquisa, 24, 05–18. Retrieved from

    Google Scholar 

  • Pedromônico, M. R. M., Bragatto, E. L., & Strobilus, R. (1999). Teste de Triagem Denver II. São Paulo: UNIFESP.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pilgrim, C., Jackson, J., & Galizio, M. (2000). Acquisition of arbitrary conditional discriminations by young normally developing children. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 73, 177–193. doi:10.1901/jeab.2000.73-177.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schreibman, L. (1975). Effects of within-stimulus and extra-stimulus prompting on discrimination learning in autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 8, 91–112. doi:10.1901/jaba.1975.8-91.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Serna, R. W., Dube, W. V., & McIlvane, W. J. (1997). Assessing same/different judgments in individuals with severe intellectual disabilities: a status report. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 18, 343–368. Retrieved from

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sidman, M., & Stoddard, L. T. (1967). The effectiveness of fading in programming a simultaneous form discrimination for retarded children. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 10, 3–15. doi:10.1901/jeab.1967.10-3.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Silva, F. T. N., & Souza, C. B. A. (2009). Discriminação simples com mudanças sucessivas na função dos estímulos: aprendizagem em bebês. Psicologia: Teoria e Pesquisa, 25, 569–580. Retrieved from

    Google Scholar 

  • Terrace, H. S. (1963). Discrimination learning with and without “errors”. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 6, 1–27. doi:10.1901/jeab.1963.6-1.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weisberg, P. (1969). Operant procedures for the establishment of stimulus control in two-year-old infants. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 7, 81–95. doi:10.1016/0022-0965(69)90087-3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weisberg, P., & Rovee-Collier, C. (1998). Behavioral processes of children and young children. In K. A. Lattal & M. Perone (Eds.), Handbook of research methods in human operant behavior (pp. 325–370). New York: Plenum Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Wilkinson, K. M., & McIlvane, W. J. (2001). Methods for studying symbolic behavior and category formation: contributions of stimulus equivalence research. Developmental Review, 21, 355–374. doi:10.1006/drev.2000.0526.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was supported by a doctoral grant from FAPESP (no. 10/15602-8) to the first author. All of the authors are currently affiliated with the Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia sobre Comportamento, Cognição e Ensino, supported by FAPESP (grant no. 08/57705-8) and CNPq (grant no. 573972/2008-7), which provided support for the preparation of this manuscript. The authors thank Thaise Löhr for her help with data collection, Raúl Oset Sinha for his mathematical assistance, and Olavo Galvão and other anonymous reviewers for their criticisms that improved the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Naiara Minto de Sousa.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Minto de Sousa, N., Garcia, L.T. & Gil, M.S.C.d.A. Differential Reinforcement in Simple Discrimination Learning in 10- to 20-Month-Old Toddlers. Psychol Rec 65, 31–40 (2015).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Simple discrimination
  • Differential reinforcement
  • Toddlers