The Effects of Social Labels on the Allocation of Resources to Equivalent Stimuli: Does One Rotten Apple Spoil the Whole Barrel?

Mickey Keenan, Jacqueline Schenk, Caleb Coyle, Lauren Reid, Stephen Gallagher

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)
49 Downloads (Pure)


The studies reported here examine how participants distribute resources to arbitrary stimuli in an equivalence class after one stimulus is given a social label. In Experiment 1, two 3-member equivalence classes were established with nonsense syllables (Class 1: A1 (ZID), B1 (YIM), C1 (FAP) and Class 2: A2 (VEK), B2 (RIX), C2 (KUD)) using matching-to-sample training. A social function was then assigned to B1 only, using the simple verbal statement "YIM is a Good person." Next, participants were instructed to allocate tokens to stimuli in whatever way they consider appropriate. In general, the percentage distribution of tokens allocated to Class 1 was greater than those allocated to Class 2. Participants were then informed that a mistake had been made “Sorry I have made a mistake. YIM was actually a bad person not a good person.” Participants were again asked to allocate tokens. In general, results showed a reduction in the distribution of tokens allocated to Class 1, with a relatively higher decrease for B1, and an increase in the distribution allocated to Class 2. Experiment 2 replicated Experiment 1 with the addition of a baseline assessment of token distribution prior to examining the effects of adding a social function to B1. During this baseline, the distribution of tokens was relatively similar across both classes. When social functions were added, marked differences occurred in the distribution depending on whether YIM was described as a “Good” or a “Bad” person. Results are discussed regarding transfer of function and its relevance to experimental social psychology.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
Specialist publicationThe Psychological Record
Publication statusPublished online - 10 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Generalization
  • Social behavior
  • Stimulus equivalence
  • Transfer of function


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