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Appetite. 1990 Apr;14(2):81-93.

A behavioral economics analysis of food choice in humans.

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University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh 15213.


Three studies on the behavioral economics of food choice were presented. In Experiment 1 subjects were provided a choice of working for food on concurrent VR4 VR20 schedules, and subjects allocated the majority of their responding to the VR4 schedule. Subjects in Experiment 2 were provided a choice between two foods differing in ratings of subjective liking. The lower rated food was available on an FR1 component of a concurrent schedule, while the higher rated food was available on the other component across six comparisons ranging from FR1 through VR32. Subjects initially chose to work for the higher rated food, but as the constraints for this food increased, subjects chose to work for the lower rated food. In Experiment 3, subjects were provided the choice of a breakfast they liked or the monetary equivalent during deprivation and non-deprivation conditions. The food and money were first compared on equal FR1 schedules. Schedule requirements for money were subsequently maintained on a VR2 schedule, while access to food was presented in four phases from VR4 through VR32. Under deprivation, subjects allocated their time to get the preferred food instead of money only at the FR1 FR1 comparison. Under non-deprivation subjects allocated almost all their responding to work for money. These results suggest that the laboratory choice task is sensitive to schedule differences when food is used as a reinforcer, that subjective liking and schedule constraints for food are both important in determining food choice, and that alternative reinforces can complete with food, but the effect is dependent on both the level of deprivation and constraints on access to food.

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