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J Exp Anal Behav. 1995 Sep;64(2):117-28.

Soft commitment: self-control achieved by response persistence.

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Psychology Department, State University of New York, Stony Brook 11794, USA.


With reinforcement contingent on a single peck on either of two available keys (concurrent continuous reinforcement schedules) 4 pigeons, at 80% of free-feeding weights, preferred a smaller-sooner reinforcer (2.5 s of mixed grain preceded by a 0.5-s delay) to a larger-later reinforcer (4.5 s of mixed grain preceded by a 3.5-s delay). However, when the smaller-sooner and larger-later reinforcers were contingent on a concurrent fixed-ratio 31 schedule (the first 30 pecks distributed in any way on the two keys), all pigeons obtained the larger-later reinforcer much more often than they did when only a single peck was required. This "self-control" was achieved by beginning to peck the key leading to the larger-later reinforcer and persisting on that key until reinforcement occurred. We call this persistence "soft commitment" to distinguish it from strict commitment, in which self-control is achieved by preventing changeovers. Soft commitment also effectively achieved self-control when a brief (1-s) signal was inserted between the 30th and 31st response of the ratio and with concurrent fixed-interval 30-s schedules (rather than ratio schedules) of reinforcement. In a second experiment with the same subjects, the fixed ratio was interrupted by darkening both keys and lighting a third (center) key on which pecking was required for various fractions of the fixed-ratio count. The interruption significantly reduced self-control. When interruption was complete (30 responses on the center key followed by a single choice response), pigeons chose the smaller-sooner reinforcer as frequently as they did when only a single choice response was required.

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