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J Exp Anal Behav. Jan 1979; 31(1): 53–70.
PMCID: PMC1332789

Contingency-shaped and rule-governed behavior: instructional control of human loss avoidance


Instructions can override the influence of programmed schedules of reinforcement. Although this finding has been interpreted as a limitation of reinforcement schedule control in humans, an alternative approach considers instructional control, itself, as a phenomenon determined by subjects' reinforcement histories. This approach was supported in a series of experiments that studied instructional and schedule control when instructions either did or did not accord with the schedule of reinforcement. Experiment I demonstrated that accurate instructions control discriminative performances on multiple avoidance schedules, and that such control persists in a novel discrimination. Experiments II and III showed that elimination of instruction-following occurs when inaccurate instructions cause subjects to contact a monetary loss contingency. Experiment IV demonstrated the reinforcing properties of accurate instructions. Skinner's view of rule-governed behavior is consistent with these findings, and can be extended to account for many aspects of instructional control of human operant behavior.

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Selected References

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