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Positive transfer as a function of the degree of inter-list stimulus similarity and initial list learning Shanahan, Eileen Marie

Abstract

The present study was designed to test the hypothesis that positive transfer is a function of the degree of inter-list stimulus similarity, and the degree of learning of an initial list. More specifically, the following hypotheses, derived from E. J. Gibson's theory of verbal learning, were tested: 1. Positive transfer is a function of inter-list stimulus similarity. A decrease of inter-list stimulus similarity will result in a decrease in the amount of positive transfer. 2. Less positive transfer will occur to a second list if practice of an initial list is continued after discrimination has been established among the stimulus items. The effect of the interaction between inter-list stimulus similarity and the degree of initial list learning was also assessed. Since the status of Gibson's theory did not enable the deduction of a hypothesis, the null hypothesis was tested. Sixty subjects learned an initial list of eleven stimulus forms paired with nonsense syllables of zero associative value. The subjects were required to learn each syllable so that they could spell it when the appropriate form was presented. Learning was by the method of right associates, and material was presented at the rate of two seconds per item, with a six second interval between trials. Thirty of the subjects learned this list to a criterion of one perfect recitation, and the other thirty subjects learned it to a criterion of five consecutive perfect recitations. When the criterion had been reached, the subjects were given a ten minute interval in which-to rate a series of thirty jokes. The subjects were then assigned to three groups. Each group consisted of ten subjects who had learned the initial list to a criterion of one perfect recitation, and ten who had learned it to five consecutive perfect recitations. As a transfer task, each group received a different list of paired associates, whose stimulus members were of either medium, low or zero similarity to those of the initial list. Each group learned this task to a criterion of one perfect recitation. Th8 main findings and conclusions of the study were as follows: 1. Positive transfer is a function of the degree of inter-list stimulus similarity. Significantly less transfer occurs to a list of zero similarity than to a list of medium similarity or to one of low similarity. There is no significant difference between the amount of transfer to a list of medium similarity and the amount of transfer to one of low similarity. This indicates that the relationship between positive transfer and inter-list stimulus similarity is indirect, whereas Gibson's theory indicates that the relationship should be linear. 2. Increasing the degree of initial list learning from one perfect recitation to five consecutive perfect recitations does not significantly decrease the amount of positive transfer. This was considered to be an inadequate test of Gibson's hypothesis, because the criterion of one perfect recitation did not allow discrimination to be established among the items. 3. There is no interaction between inter-list stimulus similarity and the degree of initial list learning.

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