Relative validity

Relative validity

Relative validity is the process by which stimulus control may be stronger for a stimulus that is more reliable if multiple stimuli are differentially correlated. The “valid�? stimulus more often predicts the occurrence or non-occurrence of the unconditioned outcome. It is known as a “cue competition�? phenomenon as it is the difference in predictability that causes the cues to “compete�?. Wagner et al (1968) coined the term after a series of experiments a simple example of which is detailed below.

Wagner's Experiment

Experimental Group

10 x Tone and Light followed by food

10 x Click and Light followed by nothing causing extinction

Control Group

5 trials of Tone and Light followed by food

5 trials of Tone and Light followed by nothing causing extinction

5 trials of Click and Light followed by food

5 trials of Click and Light followed by nothing causing extinction

Total experience of the light is the same for both groups as both have 10 light food pairings and 10 light no food pairings yet the animals in the experimental group associated less with the light.

In simple terms it is attending more to a stimulus that constantly predicts the outcome and attending less to a poor predictor.


* Wagner, A.R., Logan, F.A., Haberlandt, K. & Price, T. (1968). Stimulus selection in animal discrimination learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 76, 171-180

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