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J Exp Anal Behav. 1988 Nov;50(3):419-40.

A cost-benefit analysis of demand for food.

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Division of Neuropsychiatry, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Washington, DC 20307-5100.

Erratum in

  • J Exp Anal Behav 1989 Sep;52(2):96.


Laboratory studies of consumer demand theory require assumptions regarding the definition of price in the absence of a medium of exchange (money). In this study we test the proposition that the fundamental dimension of price is a cost-benefit ratio expressed as the effort expended per unit of food value consumed. Using rats as subjects, we tested the generality of this "unit price" concept by varying four dimensions of price: fixed-ratio schedule, number of food pellets per fixed-ratio completion, probability of reinforcement, and response lever weight or effort. Two levels of the last three factors were combined in a 2 x 2 x 2 design giving eight groups. Each group was studied under a series of six FR schedules. Using the nominal values of all factors to determine unit price, we found that grams of food consumed plotted as a function of unit price followed a single demand curve. Similarly, total work output (responses x effort) conformed to a single function when plotted in terms of unit price. These observations provided a template for interpreting the effects of biological factors, such as brain lesions or drugs, that might alter the cost-benefit ratio.

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