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J Exp Anal Behav. 2000 Jul;74(1):1-24.

Choice in a variable environment: every reinforcer counts.

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Psychology Department, University of Auckland, New Zealand.


Six pigeons were trained in sessions composed of seven components, each arranged with a different concurrent-schedule reinforcer ratio. These components occurred in an irregular order with equal frequency, separated by 10-s blackouts. No signals differentiated the different reinforcer ratios. Conditions lasted 50 sessions, and data were collected from the last 35 sessions. In Part 1, the arranged overall reinforcer rate was 2.22 reinforcers per minute. Over conditions, number of reinforcers per component was varied from 4 to 12. In Part 2, the overall reinforcer rate was six per minute, with both 4 and 12 reinforcers per component. Within components, log response-allocation ratios adjusted rapidly as more reinforcers were delivered in the component, and the slope of the choice relation (sensitivity) leveled off at moderately high levels after only about eight reinforcers. When the carryover from previous components was taken into account, the number of reinforcers in the components appeared to have no systematic effect on the speed at which behavior changed after a component started. Consequently, sensitivity values at each reinforcer delivery were superimposable. However, adjustment to changing reinforcer ratios was faster, and reached greater sensitivity values, when overall reinforcer rate was higher. Within a component, each successive reinforcer from the same alternative ("confirming") had a smaller effect than the one before, but single reinforcers from the other alternative ("disconfirming") always had a large effect. Choice in the prior component carried over into the next component, and its effects could be discerned even after five or six reinforcement and nonreinforcement is suggested.

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