Stimulus control topography coherence theory: Foundations and extensions

UMMS Affiliation

Shriver Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Discrimination Learning


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


Stimulus control topography refers to qualitative differences among members of a functional stimulus class. Stimulus control topography coherence refers to the degree of concordance between the stimulus properties specified as relevant by the individual arranging a reinforcement contingency (behavior analyst, experimenter, teacher, etc.) and the stimulus properties that come to control the behavior of the organism (experimental subject, student, etc.) that experiences those contingencies. This paper summarizes the rationale for analyses of discrimination learning outcomes in terms of stimulus control topography coherence and briefly reviews some of the foundational studies that led to this perspective. We also suggest directions for future research, including pursuit of conceptual and methodological challenges to a complete stimulus control topography coherence analysis of processes involved in discriminated and generalized operants.


McIlvane, W. J., & Dube, W. V. (2003). Stimulus control topography coherence theory: Foundations and extensions. The Behavior Analyst, 26, 195-213.

Journal/Book/Conference Title

The Behavior Analyst