The Comparator Hypothesis: A Response Rule for The Expression of Associations

Ralph R. Miller, Louis D. Matzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

461 Scopus citations


This chapter describes the potential explanatory power of a specific response rule and its implications for models of acquisition. This response rule is called the “comparator hypothesis.” It was originally inspired by Rescorla's contingency theory. Rescorla noted that if the number and frequency of conditioned stimulus–unconditioned stimulus (CS–US) pairings are held constant, unsignaled presentations of the US during training attenuate conditioned responding. This observation complemented the long recognized fact that the delivery of nonreinforced presentations of the CS during training also attenuates conditioned responding. The symmetry of the two findings prompted Rescorla to propose that during training, subjects inferred both the probability of the US in the presence of the CS and the probability of the US in the absence of the CS and they then established a CS–US association based upon a comparison of these quantities. The comparator hypothesis is a qualitative response rule, which, in principle, can complement any model of acquisition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-92
Number of pages42
JournalPsychology of Learning and Motivation - Advances in Research and Theory
Issue numberC
StatePublished - Jan 1 1988
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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