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J Exp Anal Behav. 1986 May;45(3):237-56.

Rule-governed behavior and sensitivity to changing consequences of responding.


Humans were presented with a task that required moving a light through a matrix. Button presses could produce light movements according to a multiple fixed-ratio 18/differential-reinforcement-of-low-rate 6-s schedule, with components alternating every 2 min. Moving the light through the maze earned points worth chances on money prizes. In Experiment 1 four conditions were assessed through between-subject comparisons: minimal instructions, instructions to press rapidly, instructions to press slowly, and instructions that sometimes rapid responding would work while at other times a slow rate would work best. Subjects responded in three successive sessions of 32 min each. The results suggested that instructions affected the nature of the contact made with the programmed consequences and thus subsequent performance. In some cases, responding seemed to result from added contingencies introduced by stating rules. In Experiment 2 the relative contribution of these two effects was assessed by presenting and then withdrawing two lights that had been paired with two specific instructions: "Go Fast" or "Go Slow." There were three conditions. In one condition, only the Go Fast light was on; in a second, only the Go Slow light was on; and in a third, the lights alternated each minute. In each condition, half the subjects had all instruction lights turned off after the first session. The results once again showed an effect of instructions on contact with the programmed consequences. However, responding sometimes continued in a manner consistent with added contingencies for rule-following even when the programmed consequences had been contacted and would have controlled a different type of responding in the absence of instructions. The relevance of added contingencies for rule-following in determining the effects of explicitly programmed consequences is emphasized.


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