Comparing Stimulus Equivalence-Based Instruction to a Video Lecture to Increase Religious Literacy in Middle-School Children


Being familiar with world religions and their diverse practices is referred to as religious literacy. The present study compared the effects of stimulus equivalence-based instruction (EBI) and video lecture (VL) to increase religious literacy in middle-school students; 10 participants were assigned to either the EBI or the VL group. Participants in the EBI group were taught five 6-member equivalence classes using match-to-sample (MTS) software on a computer. Within each class of (1) Judaism, (2) Islam, (3) Christianity, (4) Hinduism, and (5) Buddhism, the visual stimulus members were (A) name of the religion, (B) major religious symbol, (C) sacred text, (D) notable religious figure, (E) name of religious service leader, and (F) notable celebrated holiday. The VL participants were given an opportunity to complete a fill-in written worksheet while viewing a video lecture about the 5 religions using the same stimuli as the EBI group. Participant responding in each group was compared across worksheet, oral, and MTS pretests and posttests. The results showed that 5 of 5 participants in the EBI group formed equivalence classes but only 1of 5 did so in the VL group. Class-consistent responding generalized to oral vignettes to a greater degree for the EBI participants than for the VL participants. In addition, at an approximately 2-week follow-up, EBI participants maintained class-consistent responding to a greater degree than VL participants did. Duration measures showed that even though EBI was more effective, EBI training did require more time than the VL did. Although not explicitly programmed for, social distance survey scores showed that participants improved equally in their ratings of the acceptability of people from other faiths following training, regardless of training type. Thus, EBI may be an effective method to teach schoolchildren about religious literacy.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5


  1. Albright, L., Reeve, K. F., Reeve, S. A., & Kisamore, A. N. (2015). Teaching statistical variability with equivalence-based instruction. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48, 883–894.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. American Academy of Religion, Religion in the Schools Task Force. (2010). Guidelines for teaching about religion in K–12 public schools in the United States. Retrieved from

  3. Anti-Defamation League. (2013). Religion in the public schools: Religion in the curriculum. Retrieved from

  4. Anti-Defamation League. (2016). ADL audit: Anti-Semitic assaults rise dramatically across the country in 2015. Retrieved from

  5. Bogardus, E. S. (1968). Comparing racial distance in Ethiopia, South Africa, and the United States. Sociology and Social Research, 52, 149–156.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Brodsky, J. B., & Fienup, D. M. (2018). Sidman goes to college: A meta-analysis of equivalence-based instruction in higher education. Perspectives on Behavior Science, 41, 95–119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2016). English language arts standards. Retrieved from

  8. Creath, L. (2014). World religions brochure. Retrieved from

    Google Scholar 

  9. Critchfield, T. S., & Fienup, D. M. (2008). Stimulus equivalence. In S. F. Davis & W. F. Buskist (Eds.), 21st century psychology (pp. 360–372). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  10. Dixon, M., Branon, A., Nastally, B. L., & Mui, N. (2009). Examining prejudice towards Middle Eastern persons via a transformation of stimulus functions. The Behavior Analyst Today, 10, 295–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Fienup, D. M., & Critchfield, T. S. (2011). Transportability of equivalence-based programmed instruction: Efficacy and efficiency in a college classroom. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44, 435–450.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  12. Fienup, D. M., Covey, D. P., & Critchfield, T. S. (2010). Teaching brain-behavior relations economically with stimulus equivalence technology. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43, 19–33.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  13. Fischer, M. W. (2016). Teaching religion in public schools: Removing the angst [Web log post]. Retrieved from

  14. Fish, S. (2005). One university under God? Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

  15. Harvard Divinity School Religious Literacy Project. (2016a). Definition of religious literacy. Retrieved from

  16. Harvard Divinity School Religious Literacy Project. (2016b). Religious influences are embedded in cultures. Retrieved from

  17. Heinrich, J. (2015). The devil is in the details: In America can you really say “God” in school? Educational Review, 67, 64–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. International Phonetic Association. (2015). International phonetic alphabet. Retrieved from

  19. Kass, J. D., Friedman, R., Leserman, J., Caudill, M., Zuttermeister, P. C., & Benson, H. (1991). An inventory of positive psychological attitudes with potential relevance to health outcomes: Validation and preliminary testing. Behavioral Medicine, 17, 121–129.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Lester, E. (2011). Teaching about religions: A democratic approach for public schools. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Lovett, S., Rehfeldt, R. A., Garcia, Y., & Dunning, J. (2011). Comparison of a stimulus equivalence protocol and traditional lecture for teaching single-subject designs. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44, 819–833.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  22. Lowe, C. F., & Beasty, A. (1987). Language and the emergence of equivalence relations: A developmental study. Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 40, 45–49.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Mackay, H. A., Wilkinson, K. M., Farrell, C., & Serna, R. W. (2011). Evaluating merger and intersection of equivalence classes with one member in common. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 96, 87–105.

  24. Metzger, D. (2002). Finding common ground: Citizenship education in a pluralistic democracy. American Secondary Education, 30, 14–32.

    Google Scholar 

  25. National Council for the Social Studies. (2017). College, career & civic life, C3 framework for social studies state standards: Guidance for enhancing the rigor of K–12 civics, economics, geography, and history. Retrieved from

  26. New Jersey Department of Education. (2014). New Jersey student learning standards: Social studies. Retrieved from

  27. Parillo, V. N., & Donaghue, C. (2013). The national social distance study: Ten years later. Sociological Forum, 28, 597–614.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Passe, J., & Willox, L. (2009). Teaching religion in America’s public schools: A necessary disruption. The Social Studies, 100, 102–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Pew Research Center. (2010). U.S. religious knowledge survey. Retrieved from

  30. Pew Research Center. (2015). America’s changing religious landscape. Retrieved from

  31. Pytte, C. L., & Fienup, D. M. (2012). Using equivalence-based instruction to increase efficiency in teaching neuroanatomy. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 10, 125–131.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Rehfeldt, R. A. (2003). Establishing contextual control over generalized equivalence relations. The Psychological Record, 53, 415–428.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Reyes-Giordano, K., & Fienup, D. M. (2015). Emergence of topographical responding following equivalence-based neuroanatomy instruction. The Psychological Record, 65, 495–507.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Rosenblith, S., & Bailey, B. (2008). Cultivating a religiously literate society: Challenges and possibilities for America’s public schools. Religious Education, 103, 145–161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Sidman, M. (1971). Reading and auditory-visual equivalences. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 14, 5–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Sidman, M. (1994). Equivalence relations and behavior: A research story. Boston: Authors Cooperative.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Sidman, M. (2003). Introduction: Terrorism as behavior. Behavior and Social Issues, 12, 83–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Sidman, M., Cresson, O., & Willson-Morris, M. (1974). Acquisition of matching to sample via mediated transfer. Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 22, 261–273.

  39. Sidman, M., Kirk, B., & Willson-Morris, M. (1985). Six-member stimulus classes generated by conditional-discrimination procedures. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 43, 21–42.

  40. Smeets, P. M., & Barnes-Holmes, D. (2005). Establishing equivalence classes in preschool children with one-to-many and many-to-one training protocols. Behavioural Processes, 69, 281–293.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. Southern Poverty Law Center. (2016). Understanding other religious beliefs. Retrieved from

  42. Stromer, R., Mackay, H. A., & Stoddard, L. T. (1992). Classroom applications of stimulus equivalence technology. Journal of Behavioral Education, 2, 225–256.

  43. Tan, A., Dalisay, F., Zhang, Y., Han, E., & Merchant, M. M. (2010). Cognitive processing model of information source use and stereotyping: African-American stereotypes in South Korea. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 54, 569–587.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Thorn, B. (2010). Why religious education matters. Retrieved from

  45. Walker, B. D., & Rehfeldt, R. A. (2012). An evaluation of the stimulus equivalence paradigm to teach single-subject design to distance education students via Blackboard. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 45, 329–344.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  46. Walker, B. D., Rehfeldt, R. A., & Ninness, C. (2010). Using the stimulus equivalence paradigm to teach course material in an undergraduate rehabilitation course. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43, 615–633.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  47. Witt, J. C., & Martens, B. K. (1983). Assessing the acceptability of behavioral interventions used in the classroom. Psychology in the Schools, 20, 510–517.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kenneth F. Reeve.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Caldwell University Institutional Research Board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This project was completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the master of arts in applied behavior analysis at Caldwell University by the first author, under the supervision of the second author.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ferman, D.M., Reeve, K.F., Vladescu, J.C. et al. Comparing Stimulus Equivalence-Based Instruction to a Video Lecture to Increase Religious Literacy in Middle-School Children. Behav Analysis Practice 13, 360–374 (2020).

Download citation


  • Diversity
  • Education
  • Equivalence-based instruction
  • Religion
  • Religious literacy