The search for symmetry: 25 years in review

UMMS Affiliation

Shriver Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Animals; *Association Learning; *Behavior, Animal; *Conditioning (Psychology); *Discrimination Learning; *Generalization, Stimulus; Humans


Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences


It has been 25 years since the publication of Sidman et al.'s (1982) report on the search for symmetry in nonhuman animals. They attributed their nonhuman subjects' failure to the absence of some critical experiences (e.g., exemplar training, control of location variables, and generalized identity matching). Since then, species ranging from rats to chimpanzees have been tested on symmetry, and the results have been equivocal. Twenty-four investigations of symmetry in nonhumans are reviewed to determine whether the underlying factors first addressed by Sidman et al. (1982) have been verified and whether new factors have been identified. The emergent picture shows that the standard procedures as typically implemented on a three-key apparatus are insufficient by themselves to produce emergent symmetry in nonhumans. Recent successful demonstrations of symmetry in sea lions and pigeons have clarified certain important stimulus control variables (i.e., select and reject control) and suggest avenues for future research. Reliable symmetry may be achievable with nonhumans if training and test procedures that encourage compatible stimulus-control topographies and relations are designed.

DOI of Published Version



Learn Behav. 2009 May;37(2):188-203. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Learning and behavior : a Psychonomic Society publication

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID