2020: Will Fleming

University of Nevada, Reno

As a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno under the advisement of Dr. Linda J. Hayes, Will Fleming conducts experimental and theoretical work on cultural behavior, verbal behavior, and behavioral economics from both operant and interbehavioral perspectives.


Will’s dissertation will use a turn-based matching-to-sample procedure (TBMTS) to investigate the relevance of verbal behavior in establishing cultural behavior across a series of experiments. Similar to studies on non-human reference by Skinner, Savage-Rumbaugh, and colleagues, TBMTS involves trials in which (1) one individual selects a stimulus from Set A in the presence of a stimulus from Set B, (2) a second individual selects a stimulus from Set B in the presence of that selected by the first, and (3) both individuals receive the same points simultaneously. Individuals take turns selecting first and second across trials. When communication is restricted and when the stimuli do not have conventional functions prior to experimentation, TBMTS is especially useful for investigating metacontingent control over interlocking behavioral contingencies (IBCs) observed when correspondence (second player selecting the sample for the first) and non-correspondence (second player not selecting the sample for the first) are reinforced. Under conditions that favor correspondence, participants demonstrate shared and symmetrical correspondence. After establishing steady patterns, one participant’s responding generally does not change as their partner’s does when non-correspondence is reinforced.


Three experiments will be conducted to target possible verbal factors contributing to both the establishment of IBCs and which dyad member demonstrates flexible response patterns. In Experiment 1, dyads will receive instructions in which reinforcement contingencies are more or less completely described in either referential or non-referential terms. In Experiment 2, the degree and duration to which patterns of correspondence and non-correspondence are established will be measured when the number of sample and comparison stimuli are systematically manipulated. In Experiment 3, dyads composed of children with differential verbal abilities, measured by the PEAK Equivalence Pre-Assessment, will determine the relevance of verbal repertoire complexity on the establishment of cultural behavior. Together these experiments will inform relations between cultural behavior and verbal processes and suggest avenues by which cultural behavior can be altered.


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