Matching and Conditioned Reinforcement Rate

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior






Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

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Attempts to examine the effects of variations in relative conditioned reinforcement rate on choice have been confounded by changes in rates of primary reinforcement or changes in the value of the conditioned reinforcer. To avoid these problems, this experiment used concurrent observing responses to examine sensitivity of choice to relative conditioned reinforcement rate. In the absence of observing responses, unsignaled periods of food delivery on a variable-interval 90-s schedule alternated with extinction on a center key (i.e., a mixed schedule was in effect). Two concurrently available observing responses produced 15-s access to a stimulus differentially associated with the schedule of food delivery (S+). The relative rate of S+ deliveries arranged by independent variable-interval schedules for the two observing responses varied across conditions. The relation between the ratio of observing responses and the ratio of S+ deliveries was well described by the generalized matching law, despite the absence of changes in the rate of food delivery. In addition, the value of the S+ deliveries likely remained constant across conditions because the ratio of S+ to mixed schedule food deliveries remained constant. Assuming that S+ deliveries serve as conditioned reinforcers, these findings are consistent with the functional similarity between primary and conditioned reinforcers suggested by general choice theories based on the concatenated matching law (e.g., contextual choice and hyperbolic value-added models). These findings are inconsistent with delay reduction theory, which has no terms for the effects of rate of conditioned reinforcement in the absence of changes in rate of primary reinforcement.