Derived insensitivity: Rule-based insensitivity to contingencies propagates through equivalence

Jean Louis Monestès*, W. James Greville, Nic Hooper

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Rule-governed behaviours enable rapid acquisition of appropriate and often complex behaviour in novel contexts; however, this capacity can also make individuals insensitive to environmental contingencies. This problem may be exacerbated if rules propagate from one context to another through derived relational responding. Here we assessed whether insensitivity due to rule-following would transfer to stimuli that were never directly associated with that rule, by means of combinatorial entailment. Multiple reinforcement schedules (1A = VR8; 2A = DRL8) were initially presented to two groups, one receiving rules on how to behave to earn as many points as possible, the other not receiving any rule. The participants then completed a matching-to-sample task in which equivalence classes were trained in a one-to-many format (1A ⟵ 1B → 1C; 2A ⟵ 12B → 2C). Finally, the derived stimuli (1C and 2C) were presented in a second multiple-schedule task, where the associated schedules were reversed (1C = DRL8; 2C = VR8), without informing the participants. Results demonstrated that insensitivity transferred to the stimuli set in equivalence for the participants who received rules, while participants who did not receive any rule adapted quicker to the contingencies changes. Results are discussed in relation to behavioural variability and psychological inflexibility that contributes to the development and maintenance of psychological issues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-63
Number of pages9
JournalLearning and Motivation
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Derived insensitivity
  • Derived stimulus relations
  • Equivalence
  • Rule-based insensitivity
  • Rule-governed behavior


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