Pigeons May Not Remember the Stimuli that Reinforced Their Recent Behavior

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Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior






Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

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In two experiments the conditioned reinforcing and delayed discriminative stimulus functions of stimuli that signal delays to reinforcement were studied. Pigeons' pecks to a center key produced delayed-matching-to-sample trials according to a variable-interval 60-s (or 30-s in 1 pigeon) schedule (Experiment 1) or a multiple variable-interval 20-s variable-interval 120-s schedule (Experiment 2). The trials consisted of a 2-s illumination of one of two sample key colors followed across phases by delays ranging from 0.1 to 27.0 s followed in turn by the presentation of matching and nonmatching comparison stimuli on the side keys. Pecks to the key color that matched the sample were reinforced with 4-s access to grain. Under some conditions of Experiment 1, pecks to nonmatching comparison stimuli produced a 4-s blackout and the start of the next interval. Under other conditions of Experiment 1 and each condition of Experiment 2, pecks to nonmatching stimuli had no effect and trials ended only when pigeons pecked the other, matching stimulus and received food. The functions relating pretrial response rates to delays differed markedly from those relating matching-to-sample accuracy to delays. Specifically, response rates remained relatively high until the longest delays (15.0 to 27.0 s) were arranged, at which point they fell to low levels. Matching accuracy was high at short delays, but fell to chance at delays between 3.0 and 9.0 s. In Experiment 2, both matching accuracy and response rates remained high over a wider range of delays in the variable-interval 120-s component relative to the variable-interval 20-s component. The difference in matching accuracy between the components was not due to an increased tendency in the variable-interval 20-s component toward proactive interference following short intervals. Thus, under these experimental conditions the conditioned reinforcing and the delayed discriminative functions of the sample stimulus depended on the same variables (delay and variable-interval value), but were nevertheless dissociated.


Originally published by the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. Publisher's PDF available through remote link. Note: Timothy Shahan was affiliated with West Virginia University at the time of publication.