Quantitative Analyses of Observing and Attending

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Behavioural Processes







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We review recent experiments examining whether simple models of the allocation and persistence of operant behavior are applicable to attending. In one series of experiments, observing responses of pigeons were used as an analog of attending. Maintenance of observing is often attributed to the conditioned reinforcing effects of a food-correlated stimulus (i.e., S+), so these experiments also may inform our understanding of conditioned reinforcement. Rates and allocations of observing were governed by rates of food or S+ delivery in a manner consistent with the matching law. Resistance to change of observing was well described by behavioral momentum theory only when rates of primary reinforcement in the context were considered. Rate and value of S+ deliveries did not affect resistance to change. Thus, persistence of attending to stimuli appears to be governed by primary reinforcement rates in the training context rather than conditioned reinforcing effects of the stimuli. An additional implication of these findings is that conditioned “reinforcers” may affect response rates through some mechanism other than response-strengthening. In a second series of experiments, we examined the applicability of the matching law to the allocation of attending to the elements of compound stimuli in a divided-attention task. The generalized matching law described performance well, and sensitivity to relative reinforcement varied with sample duration. The bias and sensitivity terms of the generalized matching law may provide measures of stimulus-driven and goal-driven control of divided attention. Further application of theories of operant behavior to performance on attention tasks may provide insights into what is referred to variously as endogenous, top-down, or goal-directed control of attention.