Author

Brian C. Lech

Date of Award:

1986

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

J. Grayson Osborne

Abstract

Research on vicarious reinforcement has answered many questions but whether vicarious reinforcement increases the likelihood that an observer will imitate a model, a social learning theory would predict, or sets the occasion for the observer to perform an alternate response, as a discriminative stimulus interpretation of vicarious reinforcement suggests, seems to depend on (1) the setting, (2) procedure, and (3) reinforcers used. In an effort to better understand the function of vicarious reinforcement, while controlling for subjects; histories and using tangible reinforcers, 47 preschool children participated in two experiments that (1) provided an experimental history of responding on several levers, (2) provided differential reinforcement on the levers during training, and (3) assessed the effects of observing a model respond on a lever and receive tokens.

In Experiment I, 18 subjects who were trained to respond on three levers responded during an extinction period and then observed either an adult model respond on a fourth, novel lever or observed a control procedure. Only subjects who observed the model receive tokens responded on the same lever as the model during an additional extinction period. The extinction period was procedurally defined and relatively short in duration. The results of Experiment I supported social learning theory; however, imitation effects were short lived. Another experiment was conducted to evaluate more fully the extinction of the modeled behavior found in Experiment I.

In Experiment II, 29 subjects who were trained to respond on three levers responded during an extinction period and then observed an adult model in one of four modeling conditions. The subjects in this experiment were exposed to the model lever during training and had an extensive history of never being reinforced on the modeled lever. Only some of the subjects who observed the model receive tokens responded on the model lever and only for a short period of time. The results of this experiment illustrated the importance of the reinforcement history of the observer and supported previous studied which found an extinction effect for vicarious reinforcement.

Taken together, these experiments illustrate the limits of social learning theory because imitation effects were short lived and suggest certain procedures that will enhance the use of vicarious reinforcement in applied setting.

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