Reversal learning set and functional equivalence in children with and without autism

UMMS Affiliation

Shriver Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Autistic Disorder; Discrimination Learning; Reversal Learning


Mental and Social Health | Neuroscience and Neurobiology | Psychiatry and Psychology


To evaluate whether children with and without autism could exhibit (a) functional equivalence in the course of yoked repeated-reversal training and (b) reversal learning set, 6 children, in each of two experiments, were exposed to simple discrimination contingencies with three sets of stimuli. The discriminative functions of the set members were yoked and repeatedly reversed. In Experiment 1, all the children (of preschool age) showed gains in the efficiency of reversal learning across reversal problems and behavior that suggested formation of functional equivalence. In Experiment 2, 3 nonverbal children with autism exhibited strong evidence of reversal learning set and 2 showed evidence of functional equivalence. The data suggest a possible relationship between efficiency of reversal learning and functional equivalence test outcomes. Procedural variables may prove important in assessing the potential of young or nonverbal children to classify stimuli on the basis of shared discriminative functions.


Psychol Rec. 2008 Jan 1;58(1):15-36. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

The Psychological record

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID