Relational learning

Transitive inference is an ability to derive a relation “Mary is taller than Kate” from the premises “Mary is taller than Ann” and “Ann is taller than Kate”. A typical nonverbal transitive inference task involves a series of overlapping simultaneous discriminations, for example A+ B-, B+ C-, C+ D-, and D+ E-(where letters stand for arbitrary stimuli and pluses and minuses denote reinforcement and nonreinforcement). In the test, a subject is presented with a critical test pair BD, in which both stimuli were reinforced in one pair and not reinforced in another pair. A choice of the stimulus B over the stimulus D is interpreted as indicative of transitive inference (if B > C and C > D, then B > D, therefore choose B).

In a series of research projects, we have shown that animal behavior in a transitive inference task cannot be fully explained by reinforcement-based models approaches (e.g., Lazareva & Wasserman, 2006, 2010; Paxton Gazes et al., 2014; Lazareva, Paxton Gazes, Elkins, & Hampton, 2020). Moreover, we have demonstrate that hippocampal lesion impairs transitive-like behavior in pigeons that do not rely on associative values during test; pigeons that are using these values are not affected by hippocampal lesions (Kandray, Acerbo, & Lazareva, 2015). This result again suggests that animals performing the same task can rely on different strategies.


Lazareva, O. F., Paxton Gazes, R., Elkins, Z., & Hampton, R. (2020). Associative models fail to characterize transitive inference performance in rhesus monkeys ( Macaca mulatta). Learning and Behavior, 48, 1, 135-148.

Lazareva, O. F., Kandray, K., & Acerbo, M. J. (2015). Hippocampal lesion and transitive inference: Dissociation of inference-based and reinforcement-based strategies in pigeons. Hippocampus, 25, 219-226.

Paxton Gazes, R., Lazareva, O. F., Bergene, C. N., & Hampton, R. R. (2014). Effects of spatial training on transitive inference performance in humans and rhesus monkeys. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 40, 477-489.

​​Lazareva, O. F., & Wasserman, E. A. (2012). Using resistance-to-extinction and resistance-to-reinforcement to measure associative values of stimuli B and D in a transitive inference task. Behavioural Processes, 89, 244-255.

Lazareva, O. F., & Wasserman, E. A. (2010). Nonverbal transitive inference: Effects of task and awareness on performance. Behavioural Processes, 83, 99-112.

Lazareva, O. F., & Wasserman, E. A. (2006). Effect of stimulus orderability and reinforcement history on transitive responding in pigeons. Behavioural Processes, 72, 161-172.