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Generalized Stimulus Control


Techniques Conditioning > Generalized Stimulus Control

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



When a subject is first being taught through conditioning, the process can be slow and perhaps rather painful for both the subject and the trainer. However, with repeated conditioning, the subject may well grow to recognize the process, whereby the presentation of a cue, often in a certain way (such as in a commanding tone of voice) means that the trainer wants an action completed and that doing so will lead to a pleasurable reward.

This recognition of the conditioning process can lead to training sessions becoming easier all round as the subject pays attention to the trainer and makes efforts to find and complete the desired action in order to speed the delivery of the reward. When this happens, the subject is said to be under 'generalized stimulus control'.


In early training sessions, a puppy easily wanders off or is distracted by smells. After a while, though, the puppy recognizes the subtle signals that this is something that needs their attention and that rewards can be gained by going along with the trainer.

In a school class, a teacher initially finds it hard to sustain attention and get points across to the students. In time, however, they get the measure of the class and the class learns that paying attention leads to fun lessons.


The process of reaching generalized stimulus control is one of learning for both the subject and the trainer, as each learns to spot subtle signals from the other. For example, the trainer may notice when the subject is in a 'trainable mood' and may discover the rewards that are most successful.

When training dogs, it may only take three or four conditioning activities before they start paying more attention. Humans are natural generalizers and may find it easier to realize that they are being asked to learn something, but they may also be much harder to bring into the level of control that may be gained with a dog.

See also

Stimulus Control


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