Generalization Psychology Definition Example Essays

(Last Updated On: August 31, 2017)

Stimulus generalization occurs when an organism responds to a stimulus in the same way that it responds to a similar stimulus. This occurs during the classical conditioning process. For example, imagine that a dog has been conditioned to run to its owner when it hears a whistle. The dog exhibits the same response when it hears a small child emit a high-pitched shriek. This is an example of stimulus generalization. The animal responds to the similar stimulus in the same way it would to the conditioned stimulus.

Examples of Stimulus Generalization

One of the most famous examples of stimulus generalization took place in an early psychology experiment. In the Little Albert experiment, the behaviorist John B. Watson and his assistant Rosalie Rayner conditioned a little boy to fear a white rat. However, the boy would exhibit the same response when he saw similar items such as a furry white toy and Watson’s white beard.

The Impact of Stimulus Generalization

Stimulus generalization can have an impact on how people respond to different stimuli. For example, imagine in school that children are expected to line up for lunch when they hear the ding of a bell. However, another similar sounding bell also rings when the kids are expected to sit in their desks for reading time. If stimulus generalization occurs, the children will have trouble determining which response they are supposed to give. For example, the kids might all line up for lunch instead of sitting in their desks when the reading time bell sounds.

Because of this, stimulus discrimination is also important. This involves the ability to distinguish between two similar stimuli. For the school kids in our example, they might experience stimulus generalization at first, but as they become more familiar with their school schedule and the unique sound of each bell, they will eventually learn to discriminate between the two bells.

Final Thoughts

Stimulus generalization can have an impact on the learning process in both classical and operant conditioning. Sometimes this generalization can be a good thing. In school, kids may learn skills in one setting that can then be transferred over into similar situations. In other cases, it can lead to confusion and complication if there is a need to be able to distinguish between similar stimuli. Fortunately, people can learn how to tell the differences between similar stimuli and avoid stimulus generalization if necessary.

Essay Transfer of Learning: Types and Theories of Transfer of Learning!


The word transfer is used to describe the effects of past learning upon present acquisition. In the laboratory and in the outside world, how well and how rapidly we learn anything depends to a large extent upon the kinds and amount of things we have learned previously.

In simple way transfer may be defined as “the partial or total application or carryover of knowledge, skills, habits, attitudes from one situation to another situation”.

Hence, carryover of skills of one learning to other learning is transfer of training or learning. Such transfer occurs when learning of one set of material influences the learning of another set of material later. For example, a person who knows to drive a moped can easily learn to drive a scooter.

Types of Transfer of Learning:

There are three types of transfer of learning:

1. Positive transfer:

When learning in one situation facilitates learning in another situation, it is known as positive transfer. For example, skills in playing violin facilitate learning to play piano. Knowledge of mathematics facilitates to learn physics in a better way. Driving a scooter facilitates driving a motorbike.

2. Negative transfer:

When learning of one task makes the learning of another task harder- it is known as negative transfer. For example, speaking Telugu hindering the learning of Malayalam.

Left hand drive vehicles hindering the learning of right hand drive.

3. Neutral transfer:

When learning of one activity neither facilitates nor hinders the learning of another task, it is a case of neutral transfer. It is also called as zero transfer.

For example, knowledge of history in no way affects learning of driving a car or a scooter.

Theories of Transfer of Learning:

There are two important theories which explain transfer of learning. These are known as modern theories.

1. Theory of identical elements:

This theory has been developed by E.L.Thorndike. According to him most of transfer occurs from one situation to another in which there are most similar or identical elements.

This theory explains that carrying over from one situation to another is roughly proportional to the degree of resemblance in situation, in other words- more the similarity, more the transfer.

The degree of transfer increases as the similarity of elements increase. For example, learning to ride moped is easy after learning to ride a bicycle. Here, transfer is very fast because of identical elements in both vehicles.

Thorndike was convinced that the method used in guiding a pupil’s learning activities had a great effect upon the degree of transferability of his learning.

2. Theory of generalization of experience:

This theory was developed by Charles Judd. Theory of generalization assumes that what is learnt in task ‘A’ transfers to task ‘B’, because in studying ‘A’, the learner develops a general principle which applies in part or completely in both ‘A’ and ‘B’.

Experiences, habits, knowledge gained in one situation help us to the extent to which they can be generalized and applied to another situation.

Generalization consists of perceiving and understanding what is common to a number of situations. The ability of individuals to generalize knowledge varies with the degree of their intelligence.

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