Making Sense of Sensitivity in the Human-Operant Literature
Association for Behavior Analysis International
Human operant behavior is often said to be controlled by different variables or governed by different processes than nonhuman operant behavior. Support for this claim within the operant literature comes from data suggesting that human behavior is often insensitive to schedules of reinforcement to which nonhuman behavior has been sensitive. The data that evoke the use of the terms sensitivity and insensitivity, however, result from both between-species and within-subject comparisons. We argue that because sensitivity is synonymous with experimental control, conclusions about sensitivity are best demonstrated through within-subject comparisons. Further, we argue that even when sensitivity is assessed using within-subject comparisons of performance on different schedules of reinforcement, procedural differences between studies of different species may affect schedule performance in important ways. We extend this argument to age differences as well. We conclude that differences across populations are an occasion for more precise experimental analyses and that it is premature to conclude that human behavior is controlled by different processes than nonhuman behavior.
Madden, G. J., Chase, P. N., & Joyce, J. (1998). Making sense of sensitivity in the human-operant literature The Behavior Analyst, 21, 1-12.