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Transfer of Stimulus Control


Techniques Conditioning > Transfer of Stimulus Control

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



When you have successfully connected a stimulus with an action, a further step may be to add another stimulus that leads to the same action.

A typical use of transferring stimulus control is to change the cue, for example moving from spoken commands to a hand signal. When the trainer is a part of the stimulus, a transfer may be done to other people, for example so others can command the subject.

Transferring stimulus control is typically done by first presenting the new stimulus and then the current one. When the subject completes the action, reinforce this connection with a reward. Keep doing this while gradually reducing the current stimulus.

Make sure that the new stimulus is very clear and obvious, at least at first. When it has been learned, then it may be reduced and made more subtle.


A mother conditions a child to obey a command to come to the dinner table. The child does not come when the father calls. The parents work together, with the father calling and the mother backing him up until the child comes when only the father calls.

A trainer has got a dog to sit when she says 'sit'. She then introduces a raised finger before saying 'sit'. She gradually reduces the volume and clarity of the spoken cue, then fades it out with


If the subject is not fully under stimulus control with the original cue then it may just become confused if the new cue is introduced. If the new cue leads to reduced performance, even when the original cue is being used, then it is probably better to delay transfer of control to a future date when the original cue is more reliable in causing the desired action.

Transferring stimulus control is often somewhat easier to do than the original conditioning. The subject does not have to learn a new action. All they need to do is recognize that there is now another cue for something they can already do.

See also

Stimulus Control, Cue


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