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Once an animal or person has learned a specific behavior, how do you ensure generalization? First of all allow me to define what I mean when I say generalization. How can you ensure that this behavior will occur in all relevant situations with all relevant stimuli for as long as desired? There are seven strategies which are used to ensure generalization.

Reinforce all instances of generalization, or in other words, every time the specimen appears to generalize, reinforce this. For example, if you taught your child to never talk to strangers by reprimanding her for talking to bums, and then she refuses to talk to a jogger, reinforce this. Use self-generated mediators of generalization, for example, give your child a wrist band that says NTTS, which she knows “Never Talk To Strangers” a self-generated mediator is something that increases the chances of generalization at all times.

Train a skill which taps into natural reinforcement or punishment. For example, horses are taught to round over jumps, (this refers to the angle which their back is at). When a horse rounds properly, it cracks their back, which is typically reinforcing. There is no outside interference needed. Likewise, if a child touches a hot pot, it burns automatically. Social stimuli are often natural reinforcers or punishers. Such natural contingencies reinforce or punish generalization at all times, thus promoting generalization.

Train the specimen in functionally equivalent behaviors. For example, training a child to avoid abduction by screaming would be one skill, however if you also taught the child to run away, the child would have a greater chance of success. Modifying the natural contingencies in the environment is also useful to promote generalization. For example, if you are trying to teach a child to smile more in class, tell the teachers to give the child special attention every time he smiled. By the smile being automatically reinforced, thee is a higher chance of generalization.

Remember to use common stimuli in all training exercises. For example, if you are trying to teach a child to do her homework, you would use a number of different subjects, but you would always have her do her homework at her desk in her room. This desk then becomes the homework desk, making one stimuli the discriminative stimulus. However, incorporating different stimuli is also a very effective technique. For example, if you are trying to teach a child to use the bathroom, you don’t want to only use one particular toilet and location, however change the location as to create a pattern of generalization.

Using these seven techniques, generalization of a behavior should quickly be ensured.