LECTURE: Rule Governed Behaviour
Sometimes we do not learn things through conditioning trial and error. Like laws, survival, etc.
(ie. Drinking bleach will kill you was not learned by trying it and being negatively reinforced.) A
rule is a verbal description of a contingency which is maintained even if the individual has
never gone thought the ABC procedure. (ie. At the LCBO (anteceedent) if you are very drunk
(behaviour) you will be refused service (consequence)). This was not learned through
experience, but through establishing rules. An instruction indicated how we should respond to
Advantages to Rules:
1. It spends up learning. You can learn for yourself what is acceptable and unacceptable to a
new employer, or you can ask other employees and it will come much quicker.
2. In conditioning you learn from making mistakes, in rules you learn from the mistakes of
3. You avoid risk or cost from trial and error conditioning
4. Language based rule-learning can significantly fast-track experience based learning.
5. Rules can provide information about how to respond to a situation long before we encounter
Disadvantages of Rules:
1. Once a rule has been established, behaviour can be insensitive to the actual contingencies.
(ie. in the case of “Stay out of a draft or you will catch a cold” the child may follow this rule
even if it is ineffective. In this case, a conditioning approach to learning would have been
2. We may ignore the rule, instructions, and suggestions and learn for the actual consequences
anyways. (ie. “For more information on lung cancer, keep smoking.” AD).
3. Rule-governed behaviour is often less efficientnt than behaviour that has been directly
shaped by natural contingencies.
4. Some rules are not sensitive to the actual contingencies of reinforcement operating in a
Some characteristics of rules:
1. Rules can be inaccurate
2. Rules can be inadequate
3. Rules can be content specific (ie. only looking both ways before you cross the road when
your mother is around, or when the street is busy)