Skaggsrobinson Hypothesis

This hypothesis, credited to the American psychologists Ernest Burton Skaggs (18931970) and Edward Stevens Robinson (18931937), is derived from the similarity paradox in the area of serial and transfer phenomena in human verbal learning (cf., the acoustic similarity effect - the tendency for lists of similar-sounding words to be more difficult to learn than lists of dissimilar-sounding words). The classical statement, formulated in 1925-1927, of the relationship between similarity of learned material and interference in human learning is that "the greater the similarity, the greater the interference" (Osgood, 1953); cf., Kjerstad-Robinson law - named after the American psychologists Conrad Kjerstad (1883-1967) and E. S. Robinson, and formulated in 1919, states that in verbal learning the amount of material learned during equal portions of the learning time is the same for dif ferent lengths of the material to be learned; and the Muller-Schumann law (also known as the associative inhibition paradigm) - named after the German psychologists Georg Elias Muller (1850-1934) and Friedrich Schumann (1863-1940), and formulated in 1893, states that once an association has been formed between two items, it becomes more difficult to establish an association between either one of these items and a third one. This lawful statement is connected to the work of J. McGeoch and others, but when it is carried to its logical conclusion, it leads to an impossible state of affairs. That is, a stimulus situation can never be precisely identical from case to case, nor can the response, but they may be maximally similar, which is when the greatest facilitation, or ordinary learning, takes place. As Osgood (1953, p. 530) states the similarity paradox: "ordinary learning is at once the theoretical condition for maximal interference, but obviously the practical condition for maximal facilitation." A distinction was made earlier by H. Wylie between stimulus and response activities where the transfer effect in a learning task is positive when an "old" response is associated with a "new" stimulus but negative when an "old" stimulus must be associated with a "new" response. This principle has been shown to be valid only within broad limits of materials, but it fails to account for degrees of either stimulus or response similarity. E. S. Robinson was one of the first psychologists to clearly conceive of the similarity paradox, and he proposed (via J. McGeoch's "christening") what is known as the Skaggs-Robinson hypothesis as a resolution. The experimental aspects of this hypothesis show a "high peak-low valley-medium peak" curve when the relationship is graphed between the variables of "degree of stimulus similarity on a descending scale" on the abscissa/horizontal axis and "efficiency of recall of material" on the ordinate/vertical axis. Thus, the hypothesis states that facilitation of learning is greatest when successively practiced materials are identical ("high peak") and least (with greatest interference) when similarity of materials is moderate ("low valley"). Facilitation of learning increases again as materials become least similar ("medium peak") but never attains the level of the "high peak" condition. Several experiments give limited validation to the poorly defined Skaggs-Robinson hypothesis. Later, in the 1940s, many other studies on serial and transfer learning were conducted to examine the Skaggs-Robinson hypothesis and attempt to explain the fundamental similarity paradox (i.e., that responses can never truly be identical, yet ordinary learning takes place). Osgood (1949) attempts a resolution of the paradox by proposing a model called the transfer and retroaction surface, and that represents an important systematic effort to integrate a large range of transfer and retroaction phenomena, but it proved to be inadequate for a number of reasons (e.g., although the verbal learning data give evidence of differences in transfer between identical, similar, and unrelated stimuli, or responses, they have not demonstrated a "continuous gradient" of effects when similarity is varied over the intermediate range). The demise of the Skaggs-Robinson hypothesis was aided by its nonana-lytic formulation and its lack of specification of the locus of intertask similarity. The hypothesis lapsed into disuse as the analysis of similarity relations in retroaction shifted to the investigation of stimulus and response functions. See also ASSIMILATION, LAW OF; INTERFERENCE THEORIES OF FORGETTING; TRANSFER OF TRAINING, THORN-DIKE'S THEORY OF. REFERENCES

Muller, G. E., & Schumann, F. (1893). [Muller-Schumann law]. Zeitschrift fur Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorgane, 6, 81-190, 257-339. Wylie, H. (1919). An experimental study of transfer of response in the white rat. Behavior Monographs, 3, No. 16. Robinson, E. S. (1920). Some factors determining the degree of retroactive inhibition. Psychological Monographs, 28, No. 128. Skaggs, E. (1925). Further studies in retroactive inhibition. Psychological Monographs, 34, No. 161. Robinson, E. S. (1927). The similarity factor in retroaction. American Journal of Psychology, 39, 297-312. McGeoch, J., & McGeoch, G. (1937). Studies in retroactive inhibition: X. The influence of similarity of meaning be-

tween lists of paired associates. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 21, 320-329. Osgood, C. (1949). The similarity paradox in human learning: A resolution. Psy-chologicalReview, 56, 132-143. Osgood, C. (1953). Method and theory in experimental psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. Postman, L. (1971). Transfer, interference, and forgetting. In J. Kling & L. Riggs (Eds.), Woodworth and Schlosberg's experimental psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.


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