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Stimulus Equivalence and Receptive Reading

by Hearing-Impaired Preschool Children

j . G r a y s o n O s b o r n e a n d M i c h a e l B. G a t c h

In a conditional discrimination task, two 5-year-old, profoundly hearing-impaired


preschool children were taught relations between 20 manually signed words,
pictures of the words, and their printed forms. One student was taught relations
between manually signed words and their pictures and between manually signed
words and their printed forms. For this student, no relations were taught between
the pictures and the printed words; however, testing showed that these relations
emerged after the prior training. A second student was taught relations between
manually signed words and their pictures and the pictures and their printed words.
For this student, no relations were taught between the manually signed words and
the printed words; however, testing showed that these relations emerged after the
prior training. The results replicate and extend findings by Sidman (1971) to
profoundly hearing-impaired preschool children.

Functional illiteracy is a particularly important problem of subgroups of the


population, such as the hearing impaired. For example, the difficulty of the
acquisition of reading skills by severely hearing-impaired children has long been
noted and its causes and implications have been debated (Furth, 1971; Goetzinger
& Rousey, 1959; Wilbur, 1979). Such children are developmentally delayed with
respect to the acquisition of reading skills (Furth 1971; Goetzinger & Rousey, 1959;
Quigley & Kretschmer, 1982; Wilbur, 1979). In the present paper, a program to
improve reading skills of hearing-impaired children is described.
The association of words and the stimuli to which they refer, constitutes one
component of reading (Sidman, 1971). In the absence of oral expression, evidence
for such associations constitutes what has been called "receptive reading." *[ ]
The relative absence of associations between words and the stimuli to which they
refer may be one source of reading problems for the hearing impaired. It is known
that their vocabularies are deficient (Lenneberg, 1967; Quigley, 1982). Given this,
a program for the expansion of receptive reading may benefit the functional literacy
of the hearing impaired.
Recent results in the development of stimulus equivalence (defined below) are
applicable to teaching receptive reading skills to hearing-impaired children (e.g.,
Devany, Hayes, & Nelson, 1986; Fields, Verhave, & Fath, 1984; Sidman, 1971;
Sidman, Kirk, & Willson-Morris, 1985; Sidman & Tailby, 1982; Sidman, Willson-
Morris, & Kirk, 1986; Spradlin, Cotter, & Baxley, 1973; Stromer & Osborne, 1982;

J. Grayson Osborne and Michael B. Gatch are in the Department of Psychology, UMC 28, Utah
State University, Logan, UT 84322. Requests for reprints may be sent to them at this address.

63
1989, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 0161-1461/89/2001-0063501.00/0

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Wetherby, Carlan, & Spradlin, 1983). For example, Sidman (1971) taught a severely
mentally retarded youth receptive reading. Receptive reading has been defined as
. . . (a) having the student point to printed words correctly when the words are
individually spoken; or (b) having the subject point to the correct printed word
given its picture (Sidman, 1971).
In the beginning of the Sidman experiment, of 20 pictures presented to him, the
youth could point to the correct picture when the word for the picture was spoken.
He could also name each picture. Next, he was taught to choose a printed word
when the word was spoken to him. This was accomplished by rewarding the youth
for the choice of the correct word from among an array of printed words. When he
attained criterion on this task, he could relate each printed word to its spoken word.
Without further training, the youth could then relate each picture to its correspond-
ing printed word. Such a performance is used to infer that a relation (variously
called a stimulus-stimulus or a controlling relation) exists between the stimuli in
each case (Sidman & Tailby, 1982). The controlling relation can be thought of as the
label that describes the way in which the two stimuli are related, and equivalence
is one such controlling relation. Controlling relations that emerge without direct
training are called derived relations, as they result from the prior training (Stromer
& Osborne, 1982). They are further labelled transitive relations because they are
evidence of the generalization of the relations developed during the prior training.
One way of conceptualizing these relations is to portray them schematically. The
relations between the spoken words (A) and pictures (B), the spoken words (A) and
the printed words (C), and the pictures (B) and their printed words (C) are
schematized by the lines in the upper panel of Figure 1. The resulting triangle
portrays a single class of three stimuli (e.g., a spoken word, its picture, and its
printed equivalent). In the Sidman experiment, 20 such classes of three stimuli
resulted.
In the Sidman (1971) experiment, the transitive relations were equivalence
relations. Equivalence is defined as the relation that exists when, for example, A =
B. Logically, a class of equivalent stimuli is dependent on the existence of three
conditions (Siclman & Tailby, 1982). The subject must relate new stimuli to
themselves (i.e., reflexivity: B-B). Further, the subject must relate two stimuli
regardless of which is presented first (i.e., symmetry: if A-B; then B-A). Finally,
having learned to relate A to B and to relate A to C, the subject relates B to C without
direct training (i.e., transitivity). Consider the example of the picture of a cat (B), the
spoken word, "cat" (A), and the printed word, CAT (C). Reflexivity is demonstrated
when the subject can match the picture of a cat to another picture of the same eat
without training on the specific stimulus (B to B). Symmetry is demonstrated when,
having been taught to match the picture of the eat to the printed word, CAT, (B to
C) the subject can, without further training, match the printed word, CAT, to the
picture of the cat (C to B). Having been taught to match the printed word, CAT, to
the spoken word, "cat" (C to A), and the picture of the cat to the spoken word, "cat"
(B to A), transitivity exists when the subject can match the picture of the cat to the
printed word, CAT, (B to C) without further training. In such a case, the spoken
word, "cat," the printed word, CAT, and the picture of the cat are related to one

64 Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 20 63-75 January 1989

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p~3q~JRE

',E~FO
(EXPERIMENTER)
(A)
P~3 D
(c)

PICTURE(B)

SLGN SIGN RNGERSPELLRNGERSPELL


EX]:~F~'~JIIER(~)SUBJECT
E)GER~,~cN~R ,SLJBJECT

PRINTED
%ORD(C)
FIGURE 1. The upper panel depicts
the possible relations between three
different stimuli. The lower panel de-
picts a six-member stimulus class and
the potential relations between the
members.

another by equivalence, and they constitute a class of equivalent stimuli (Sidman &
Tailby, 1982).
The systematic formation of classes of equivalent stimuli has educational signif-
icance because relations between stimuli can be generated for "free" through the
emergence of the derived relations. The minimum number of training pairs to
establish a class is (N-l) where N is the number of stimuli in the class, while the
total number of derived relations that can emerge is (N-2)(N-1)/2 (Fields et al.,
1984). Thus, in a set of five stimuli (A, B, C, D, E), the minimum n u m b e r of trained
relations to relate all the stimuli is four (e.g., A-B, A-C, A-D, A-E) and the number
of possible derived relations is six (e.g., B-C, B-D, B-E, C-D, C-E, D-E). The
number of derived relations increases with the size of the trained stimulus set
(Fields et al., 1984).
It has also been shown that ira new stimulus is related to one stimulus in a class
of equivalent stimuli, the new stimulus automatically becomes equivalent to all the
remaining members of the class. Consider that a fourth stimulus is added to the
foregoing example, the spoken word, "gato" (Spanish for cat) (D). The subject can
be trained to match the spoken word, "gato," to the spoken word, "cat" (D t A). If
the training makes "gato" and "cat" equivalent it also makes "gato" equivalent to
all the remaining stimuli (the written word, CAT, and the picture of the cat) with
which is was not formally related (Sidman et al., 1985). In this example, training one
new relation (D to A) results in the emergence of two other relations (D to B and D
to C). Moreover, two stimulus classes of equivalent stimuli can be made equivalent

OSBORNE & GATCH: Stimulus Equivalence 65

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to one another by relating one stimulus from one class to one stimulus from the
other class (Sidman et al., 1985). Consider that two unrelated classes of three
equivalent stimuli exist (e.g., A-B-C and D-E-F). If C and D are now related by
training as above, then this one new trained relation results in the emergence of
eight further derived relations (A-D, A-E, A-F, B-D, B-E, B-F, C-E, and C-F).
Without going into the mathematics underlying these arrangements (Fields et al.,
1984; Fields & Verhave, 1987), suffice it to say that very rapid expansion of stimulus
classes is at least theoretically possible, and that this whole paradigm may be
educationally significant.
Through his procedure, Sidman (1971) identified the sufficient prerequisites for
the establishment of receptive reading. Also, he hypothesized that the equivalences
did not have to be taught in two modes, (e.g., auditory and visual) but could be from
the same mode, either auditory or visual. In fact, a number of studies have
generated classes of equivalent stimuli purely in the visual mode with mentally
retarded and normal subjects (Lazar, Davis-Lang, & Sanchez 1984; Sidman et al.,
1986; Spradlin et al., 1973; Spradlin & Dixon, 1976; Stromer & Osborne, 1982;
VanBiervliet, 1977; VanBiervliet, Gast, & Spradlin, 1979; Wetherby et al., 1983).
The fact that equivalent stimuli can be formed within a single mode such as
vision suggests that manual signs could be employed to teach receptive reading.
However, the only studies that have used manual signs as members of a class of
equivalent stimuli have employed mentally retarded individuals (Clark, Reming-
ton, & Light, 1986; VanBiervliet, 1977). VanBiervliet (1977) demonstrated that
words and objects can be made equivalent with manual signs for severely mentally
retarded males. He used nonsense manual signs, objects, and syllables to form
three-member stimulus classes. The relations of manual signs to objects and of
manual signs to words were trained, and the derived object-word relations emerged
without further training. This work along with that of Sidman (1971) indicates that
manual signs should be an effective tool to teach receptive reading.
Hollis, Fulton, and Larson (1986) established four-member classes which con-
sisted of picture, printed word, lip-read word, and spoken word with profoundly
hearing-impaired children. Manual signs were not used. The students could name
pictures, and could lip-read (evidenced by repeating what was spoken to them).
Matching printed words to pictures was trained. For those students who Could
lip-read well, equivalence relations (oral reading, spoken word to picture, and
spoken word to printed word) emerged after training. However, on words with
auditory-verbal confusions, those students who had difficulty lip-reading did poorly
on relations containing such words. This finding may explain why hearing-impaired
children experience difficulty in learning to read. When one trained relation in a
newly formed equivalence class is weak for any reason, the derived relations
mediating the trained relation will be weak. However, studies have demonstrated
that learning sign language facilitates learning to read as well as to speak if sign
language, speech, pictures, and/or printed words are made equivalent (e.g., Clark et
aL, 1986; Remington & Clark, 1983).
By extension from the work on the equivalence of manual signs and words with
mentally retarded individuals (VanBiervliet, 1977) and the work on the equivalence
of pictures, spoken, printed, and lip-read words with hearing-impaired children

66 Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 20 63--75 January 1989

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(Hollis et al., 1986), manual signs could facilitate receptive reading by hearing-
impaired children (in the absence of speech) if manual signs, printed words, and
pictures were made equivalent. To develop equivalence relations between such
stimuli was the purpose of the present study.
In this study, two profoundly hearing-impaired preschool children were taught to
relate manual signs, pictures, and printed words in a nominal matching-to-sample
task in such a way that 20 classes of equivalent stimuli resulted. The intent was to
systematically replicate Sidman's (1971) procedures to train receptive reading using
preschool-aged, profoundly hearing-impaired children.

Method
Subjects and Setting

Subjects were two children, with profound hearing losses. The male was 5:9 and
the female was 5:4 at the beginning of the study. They were attending a public
school in Logan, Utah in a classroom for hearing-impaired students. Table 1
provides background information on each student. Both were of normal intelli-
gence, but were developmentally delayed with respect to their expressive vocab-
ularies. In audiometric testing, the female showed responses to 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz,
and 2,000 Hz at sound pressure levels above 100 db (ANSI, 1969). Her binaurally
aided performance at the same frequencies required sound pressure levels above
50 db (ANSI, 1969). The male showed responses only to 500 Hz and 1,000 Hz at
sound pressure levels above 100 db (ANSI, 1969). His binaurally aided responses to
the same frequencies required sound pressure levels above 70 db (ANSI, 1969), and
were considered of questionable validity by the examiner.

Materials

Two sets of 20 laminated 12.7 x 20.3 cm (3 x 5 in.) index cards were used as
stimuli. One set contained color pictures obtained from magazines and catalogs (the
B stimuli). The other set consisted of the printed, upper case names of the pictures,
in 48-point type (Cello-Pak: Times Bold) (the C stimuli). The 20 stimulus words
were those used by Sidman (1971): AXE, BED, BEE, BOX, BOY, BUG, CAR, CAT,
COW, DOG, EAR, HAT, HEN, HUT, HOE, MAN, PIE, PIG, SAW, and ZOO. The

TABLE 1. Background information for each subject.

Expressive Vocabulary
Subject HearingLoss Etiology IQ Quotient
$1 Profound Cytomegalo Virus 104" 70**
$2 Profound Jaundiced at birth 108" 68**
*Leiter International Performance Scale
**Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test

O S B O R N E ~:g G A T C H : Stimulus Equivalence 67

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gain. The pre-post gain was smaller for Student 1 because he was near criterion on
over half of the BC relations at the start of the study (see Table 3). Figure 2
summarizes the improvement for each stimulus word from pretest to posttest for
both students on the derived relations (i.e., BC relations for Student 1 and AC
relations for Student 2).
A d d i t i o n a l tests. Student 1 performed at 100% accuracy over all 20 stimuli on the
finger spelling to picture test (Figure 1, EB relations) and at 95% accuracy on the
word to manual sign test (Figure 1, CD relations).

Discussion
The establishment of equivalence relations between printed words, pictures, and
manual signs can promote receptive reading in profoundly hearing-impaired
children. It is important to note that the gains depicted in Figure 2 for each student
occurred in those relations that were derived from the training procedures. There
was no direct training of these relations themselves.
The results systematically replicate and extend Sidman (1971) to profoundly
hearing-impaired preschool children. The results also systematically replicate

$1 PICTURE-PRINTED WORD (B-C)

~z 40 k '

STIMULI

$2 SIGN-PRINTED WORD (A-C)

8o

STIMULI

FIGURE 2. P e r f o r m a n c e for each s u b j e c t on


the derived relation for each stimulus during
posttesting. For each stimulus, the first bar
(hatched) represents the percent correct before
training and the second bar (filled) represents
percent correct after training.

OSBORNE GATCH: Stimulus Equivalence 71

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those stimuli in preexisting relations was reviewed for the first 10 trials of each
session. Four un-mastered relations were trained each session (if that many
existed). When the student met criterion for one relation, that relation was placed in
the review pool in the following session and was replaced by the next relation to be
taught. A relation was mastered when the student correctly identified the compar-
ison stimulus on 15 consecutive presentations of a particular sample/comparison
relation. Sample stimuli were presented randomly within sessions but they were
presented in alphabetical order across sessions.
During training sessions, if the student was correct, praise such as "'Good!" was
manually signed, the experimenter marked an "x" on a feedback sheet for the
subject. If the student was incorrect, "No" or "Wrong" was manually signed, the
sample sign was repeated, and no "x" was marked. If the student was correct, the
experimenter manually signed "Correct," and the next trial began. I f the student
was incorrect a second time on the same trial, the experimenter presented the same
sample again, pointed to the correct comparison stimulus, and asked the student to
point to it. No verbal feedback followed the student's response. Then the next
sample was presented. "X's'" were traded in after each session for tokens.
Posttesting. The first 40 trials of each posttest session were review trials of the
trained or preexisting relations (AB and either AC or BC). Perfect performance led
to BC or AC posttest trials up to a total of 100 trials for the session (i.e., 60 BC or AC
trials). This permitted examination of derived relations at the rate of three trials for
each sample/comparison relation per session for one of the two types of relations
(BC or AC) until 15 trials of each relation were obtained, for a total of 5 sessions. If
one or more errors occurred on either of the two review sections (AB or either AC
or BC), then posttesting ended at the end of that section. The subject was then
returned to the training phase until criterion was again met for the relations that
were performed incorrectly, whereupon posttesting began again. No correction
procedure or response-contingent feedback was used during posttesting and the
students were told that the experimenter could not tell them whether their
responses were correct. The students were given a number of tokens at the end of
each posttest session to approximate the number that they earned during training
sessions.
The general order of posttesting always began with a review of existing AB
relations, followed by a review of existing AC (Student 1) or BC (Student 2)
relations and finally evaluated derived BC (Student 1) or AC (Student 2) relations.
Testing proceeded sequentially down the list of potential stimulus classes (see
Table 2).
Additional testing. One week after posttesting, Student 1 was tested on his ability
to point to the correct picture when the word was finger spelled to him. One month
after post'testing, he was tested on his ability to produce the manual sign when he
was shown the printed word.
Reliability. Experimenter reliability was monitored randomly throughout all
phases of the experiment. An observer watched from a distance sufficient to not
distract the students, yet close enough to watch the stimulus presentations and the
students' responses. The observer kept a duplicate record of the students' responses
for each trial, which was compared at the end of the session with the experimenter's

OSBORNE & GATCH: Stimulus Equivalence 69

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FIELDS, L., VERHAVE,T., & FATH, S. (1984). Stimulus equivalence and transitive associations:
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FIELDS, L., & VERHAVE, T. (1987). The structure of equivalence classes. Journal of the
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can Annals of the Deaf, 105, 221-224.
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LAZAR, R. M., DAVIS-LANG, D., & SANCHEZ, L. (1984). The formation of visual stimulus
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84(5), 95-106.
QUIGLEY, S. P., & KRETSCHMER, R. R. (1982). The education of deaf children. Baltimore, MD:
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REMINGTON, B., & CLARK, S. (1983). Acquisition of expressive signing by autistic children: An
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SERNA, R. (1986). An investigation of the five-term contingency and the Conditional control of
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SiDMAN, M. (1971). Reading and auditory-visual equivalences. Journal of Speech and Hearing
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development of equivalence relations: The role of naming. Analysis and Intervention in
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SPRADLING, J. E., COTTER, V. W., & BAXLEY, U. (1973). Establishing a conditional discrimi-
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STROMER, R., & OSBORNE, J. G. (1982). Control of adolescent's arbitrary matching-to-sample
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VANBIERVLIET, A. (1977). Establishing words and objects as functionally equivalent through
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74 Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 20 63-75 January 1989

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gain. The pre-post gain was smaller for Student 1 because he was near criterion on
over half of the BC relations at the start of the study (see Table 3). Figure 2
summarizes the improvement for each stimulus word from pretest to posttest for
both students on the derived relations (i.e., BC relations for Student 1 and AC
relations for Student 2).
A d d i t i o n a l tests. Student 1 performed at 100% accuracy over all 20 stimuli on the
finger spelling to picture test (Figure 1, EB relations) and at 95% accuracy on the
word to manual sign test (Figure 1, CD relations).

Discussion
The establishment of equivalence relations between printed words, pictures, and
manual signs can promote receptive reading in profoundly hearing-impaired
children. It is important to note that the gains depicted in Figure 2 for each student
occurred in those relations that were derived from the training procedures. There
was no direct training of these relations themselves.
The results systematically replicate and extend Sidman (1971) to profoundly
hearing-impaired preschool children. The results also systematically replicate

$1 PICTURE-PRINTED WORD (B-C)

~z 40 k '

STIMULI

$2 SIGN-PRINTED WORD (A-C)

8o

STIMULI

FIGURE 2. P e r f o r m a n c e for each s u b j e c t on


the derived relation for each stimulus during
posttesting. For each stimulus, the first bar
(hatched) represents the percent correct before
training and the second bar (filled) represents
percent correct after training.

OSBORNE GATCH: Stimulus Equivalence 71

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those of VanBiervliet (1977) and Hollis et al., (1986). In the former study VanBierv-
liet employed mentally retarded males as subjects and used manual signs that were
not a part of any common language as a part of each stimulus class. In the latter
study, hearing-impaired students were subjects, but manual sign language was not
a part of the equivalence classes that were developed.
Speaking theoretically, the derived relations produced in the present study
should not be called equivalence relations because the study omitted reflexivity
and symmetry tes t procedures necessary to such an inference. While both students
could probably perform these tests correctly, they were not formally pretested on
them. ~ '
However, the results of the additional tests for Student 1 strengthen the inference
that the students formed equivalence relations. In the additional tests, two more
sets of relations among stimuli emerged for Student 1 (i.e., EB relations and CD
relations). This student was assumed to be able to imitate signs and f~nger spelling
(legs AD a n d E F of the lower panel of Figure 1) given that he was quite fluent with
both. The CD relations emerged as both of the other relations (i.e., BC and BD of
the triangle BDC were present); and the EB relations emerged as both of the other
relations (i.e., BC and CE of the triangle BCE were present). These relations
emerged without additional training, ostensibly because this student often manu-
ally signed and/or finger spelled to himself after seeing the sample, whether it was
a manual sign or a printed word. In the sense that the CD relations involved a test
in which the printed words (C stimuli) were used for the first time in tile study as
samples--when throughout training they were used only as comparisons--these
additional test trials are the symmetrical counterparts of AC training trials. On these
trials the student produced the expressive component (e.g., manual sign) rather
than the experimenter. Therefore, the repertoire of Student 1 contains evidence
that some of the trained and derived relations were symmetrical. By inference they
were probably also equivalence relations.
While the above argument is post hoe, it is strengthened by the fact that such
rapid compounding of stimulus classes has been noted frequently (Lazar, 1977;
Lazar et al., 1984; Sidnmn et al., 1985; Spradlin et al., 1973; Wetherby et al., 1983).
Such a rapid expansion of stimulus classes may be important to teachers because it
offers a potentially powerful tool for expanding repertoires.
As previously mentioned, N-1 training pairs are needed to establish a class where
N is the number of stimuli in the class and the total number of possible derived
relations is (N-2) (N-l)/2 (Fields et al., 1984). In order to establish a three-member
class (e.g., sign, word, and picture), two pairs must be related (e.g., sign-word, and
sign-picture). In order to establish a six-member class (e.g., lower panel of Figure
1), 5 pairs must be related. This seems to indicate that enlarging classes requires a
great deal of additional training. Fortunately, this is not the case. With a three-
m e m b e r class, two relations are trained, and one derived relation emerges. With a
six-member class, five relations (N-l) must be trained, but 10 derived relations can
emerge. In the present study 6 AB and 16 AC relations were taught to Student 1 and
this resulted in the emergence of 12 derived BC relations, while 10 AB and 20 BC
relations were taught to Student 2 and this resulted in the emergence of 20 derived
AC relations. While these gains are not as large as possible given the small size of

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the stimulus classes in the present study, they suggest the possibility of larger gains
where larger stimulus classes are developed (e.g., Sidman et al., 1986).
In the present study, neither student's repertoire was devoid of all of the relations
that were to be taught. On the pretest, both students passed a number of the
relations, suggesting that the process of learning to read had already begun (Table
3). This was because the teacher had already taught some of the relations in the
regular classroom. She used a curriculum that was based in part on teaching
equivalences between spoken words and printed words (Peterson & Schoenmann,
1977). That curriculum probably accounted for some or all of the extant stimulus
relations in the repertoires of the students at the beginning of the study.
Given monetary constraints, the present experiment employed stimuli cut from
catalogues and the experimenter presented the samples manually. In face-to-face
situations such as this, "Clever Hans" effects are possible. Such effects were
minimized in the present experiment both by the awareness of the experimenter,
and by the use of 20 comparison stimuli. Such a large number of choices both
lowered the students' opportunities to be correct by chance (1 in 20 or p = .05) on
each trial, and also lowered the likelihood that the experimenter could inadvert-
ently cue the correct stimulus from among so many.
It is important to know that this procedure can be successfully approximated for
the small amount of nmney that it requires to prepare such stimuli. However, it is
also possible to automate these procedures to a large extent via computer (Green,
1986; Fulton, Larson, & Worthy, 1983; Serna, 1986). The system described in
Fulton et al. (1983) appears very useful to further research and training using the
stimulus equivalence approach. That system was devised specifically for matching-
to-sample presentations of words, pictures, and vocal language, as well as the
recording of subject matching responses. Although the system was designed for
auditory-visual language presentations, it could be readily modified to present signs
(visual-visual presentations) if a video disc were used. No system currently
monitors subject-produced manual signing or finger spelling.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The authors thank Beth Home, the teacher, for her cooperation in this study. A special
thanks also to David Mercaldo, Supervisor, and Tony Christopulos, Director, Utah School for
the Deaf for their interest in seeing this study accomplished. Finally, our appreciation to Mary
Exum for carrying out reliability checking procedures.

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74 Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 20 63-75 January 1989

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Received May 19, 1987


Accepted June 27, 1988

OSBORNE GATCH: Stimulus Equivalence 75

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