Observing behavior and atypically restricted stimulus control

UMMS Affiliation

Shriver Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Discrimination Learning; Developmental Disabilities; Autistic Disorder; Mental Retardation; Child Development Disorders, Pervasive


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


Restricted stimulus control refers to discrimination learning with atypical limitations in the range of controlling stimuli or stimulus features. In the study reported here, 4 normally capable individuals and 10 individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) performed two-sample delayed matching to sample. Sample-stimulus observing was recorded with an eye-tracking apparatus. High accuracy scores indicated stimulus control by both sample stimuli for the 4 nondisabled participants and 4 participants with ID, and eye tracking data showed reliable observing of all stimuli. Intermediate accuracy scores indicated restricted stimulus control for the remaining 6 participants. Their eye-tracking data showed that errors were related to failures to observe sample stimuli and relatively brief observing durations. Five of these participants were then given interventions designed to improve observing behavior. For 4 participants, the interventions resulted initially in elimination of observing failures, increased observing durations, and increased accuracy. For 2 of these participants, contingencies sufficient to maintain adequate observing were not always sufficient to maintain high accuracy; subsequent procedure modifications restored it, however. For the 5th participant, initial improvements in observing were not accompanied by improved accuracy, an apparent instance of observing without attending; accuracy improved only after an additional intervention that imposed contingencies on observing behavior. Thus, interventions that control observing behavior seem necessary but may not always be sufficient for the remediation of restricted stimulus control.

DOI of Published Version



J Exp Anal Behav. 2010 Nov;94(3):297-313. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of the experimental analysis of behavior

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID