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J Exp Anal Behav. 1974 May;21(3):485-9.

Impulse control in pigeons.


Pigeons were given a small, immediate food reinforcement for pecking a key, and a larger, delayed reinforcement for not pecking this key. Most subjects pecked the key on more than 95% of trials. However, when pecking a differently colored key at an earlier time prevented this option from becoming available, three of 10 subjects consistently pecked it, thereby forcing themselves to wait for the larger reward. They did not peck the earlier key when it did not prevent this option. This is an experimental example of psychological impulse and a learnable device to control it. Although only a minority of the subjects learned it, the fact that such learning is possible at all argues for a theory of delayed reward that can predict change of preference as a function of elapsing time.

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