Discriminative Stimulus vs. Discrimination Training

Applied Behavior Analysis can use a lot of jargon and technical terms for things we see day to day, and it’s sometimes necessary to use extra words to put distinct meanings to phenomena we see and study. It’s also important to distinguish between them.

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) terminology can be tricky. Today I had someone ask me the difference between an SD (discriminative stimulus) and discrimination training. Both sound alike, and both are on an RBT© exam. They’re very similar in one respect; you want the learner/responder to tell one thing (stimulus) apart from another. The big difference is what.

The SD (discriminative stimulus)

An SD is all about reinforcement availability. When an Sis presented, the response you’re looking for is shown to be in a condition to be reinforced. So, when you see an SD  you would generally engage in behaviors that would be rewarded under that specific condition. Let’s look at some examples!

  • The jingle from an ice cream truck ⇒ Running outside with your money.
  • A friend turning around to smile at you ⇒ Saying “Hi!” and starting conversation.
  • Candles on your birthday cake ⇒ Blowing out candles and hearing Happy Birthday!

Without those discriminative stimuli, those responses/behaviors would be silly, and ineffective, out of context.

Discrimination Training

Discrimination training is used to pick one thing (stimulus) from a group of other things (stimuli) that have similarities. So, for example, if you have an array of colors, being able to pick out blue when asked “Give me blue” (which is an SD as well) is an example of discrimination training. You are able to select a single one from a group based upon preferred, or important differences. Make sense? Let’s look at some examples!

  • You walk in to a pet store full of puppies ⇒ You pick out a labrador.
  • You tear open a bag of fruit gummy bears ⇒ You pick out the delicious red cherry ones.
  • You go to a car dealership to pick out a favorite ⇒ You pick a cool fast sports car.

Questions? Comments? Send your feedback!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s