Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

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Aversive functions of response effort: Fact or artifact?

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 01:37

Historically, effort has been viewed as aversive. Most supporting evidence comes from studies demonstrating increased force/effort requirements reduce operant responding. Changes in force/effort requirements, however, are often accompanied by changes in response definition when mechanical devices are used to define the response. As a consequence, responses measured at one point in a study may go unmeasured at other points. In an alternative approach, we used a continuous measurement strategy that provided a means to fix the threshold force defining the response class and simultaneously allowed independent manipulation of the force criteria required to produce reinforcement. Rats pressed a force transducer according to a fixed-ratio 5 schedule of food delivery. The criterion force was systematically increased and decreased; the threshold for response detection was constant. When response rates included only criterion responses, overall rate decreased when force requirements increased. By contrast, when all responses, both those meeting force criteria and those that did not (above the threshold but below the criteria for reinforcement) were included in the rate calculation, increases in force increased response rate. Increases in force criteria also increased the maximum force (g) and time-integral of force (g-s) of operant behavior. Control conditions showed increases in responding could be explained by the emergence of subcriterion responses, irrespective of force. We conclude that prior results showing effort decreases response rates are due to an artifact arising from inadvertent changes in response definitions. Increases in effort may better be understood as changes in the response:reinforcer payoff owing to the emergence of a subcriterion response class.

Categories: Academic Journals

Discounting: A practical guide to multilevel analysis of indifference data

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 01:37

Multilevel modeling provides the ability to simultaneously evaluate the discounting of individuals and groups using indifference point data. After considering the conditions when weaknesses emerge in estimating individual discounting as a prelude to estimating group discounting, examples are provided that indicate that multilevel modeling improves estimation in the presence of variability and missing data, and when trying to fit two-parameter discounting functions. Concrete examples of how to fit nonlinear multilevel models are provided to help researchers in the adoption of these methods.

Categories: Academic Journals

Theoretical implications of quantitative properties of interval timing and probability estimation in mouse and rat

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 23:28

In three experiments with mice ( Mus musculus ) and rats (Rattus norvigicus), we used a switch paradigm to measure quantitative properties of the interval-timing mechanism. We found that: 1) Rodents adjusted the precision of their timed switches in response to changes in the interval between the short and long feed latencies (the temporal goalposts). 2) The variability in the timing of the switch response was reduced or unchanged in the face of large trial-to-trial random variability in the short and long feed latencies. 3) The adjustment in the distribution of switch latencies in response to changes in the relative frequency of short and long trials was sensitive to the asymmetry in the Kullback–Leibler divergence. The three results suggest that durations are represented with adjustable precision, that they are timed by multiple timers, and that there is a trial-by-trial (episodic) record of feed latencies in memory.

Categories: Academic Journals

Animal cognition + optimal choice = behavior: A review of adaptive behavior and learning, 2nd Ed., by J. E. R. Staddon

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 23:27

Staddon discusses a vast array of topics in comparative psychology in this book. His view is that adaptive behavior in most cases is the result of optimal choice acting on an animal's knowledge about the world. Staddon refers to this as a functional teleonomic approach inasmuch as it attempts to understand an animal's behavior in terms of goals. He builds mathematical models based on this idea that are designed to reproduce specific sets of empirical observations, usually qualitatively. A natural consequence of Staddon's approach is that many models are developed, each of which applies to a specific set of observations. An alternative to functional teleonomy is a functional approach that builds on prior principles. In most cases, this approach favors a single-theory account of behavior. Prior principles can be understood as functional stand-ins for antecedent material causes, which means that these accounts are closer to mechanistic theories than are goal-based teleonomic accounts. An ontological perspective, referred to as supervenient realism, is a means of understanding the relationship between functional theories and the material world. According to this perspective, the algorithmic operation of a successful functional theory may be understood to supervene on the material operation of the nervous system.

Categories: Academic Journals

A method for detailed movement pattern analysis of tadpole startle response

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 23:22

Prolonged space flight, specifically microgravity, presents a problem for space exploration. Animal models with altered connections of the vestibular ear, and thus altered gravity sensation, would allow the examination of the effects of microgravity and how various countermeasures can establish normal function. We describe an experimental apparatus to monitor the effects of ear manipulations to generate asymmetric gravity input on the tadpole escape response. To perform the movement pattern analysis, an imaging apparatus was developed that uses a high-speed camera to obtain time-resolved, high-resolution images of tadpole movements. Movements were recorded in a temperature-controlled test chamber following mechanical stimulation with a solenoid actuator, to elicit a C-start response. Temperature within the test cell was controlled with a recirculating water bath. Xenopus laevis embryos were obtained using a standard fertilization technique. Tadpole response to a controlled perturbation was recorded in unprecedented detail and the approach was validated by describing the distinct differences in response between normal and one-eared tadpoles. The experimental apparatus and methods form an important element of a rigorous investigation into the response of the tadpole vestibular system to mechanical and biochemical manipulations, and can ultimately contribute to improved understanding of the effects of altered gravity perception on humans.

Categories: Academic Journals

How do reinforcers affect choice? Preference pulses after responses and reinforcers

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 19:50

In concurrent schedules, reinforcers are often followed by a brief period of heightened preference for the just-productive alternative. Such ‘preference pulses’ may reflect local effects of reinforcers on choice. However, similar pulses may occur after nonreinforced responses, suggesting that pulses after reinforcers are partly unrelated to reinforcer effects. McLean, Grace, Pitts, and Hughes (2014) recommended subtracting preference pulses after responses from preference pulses after reinforcers, to construct residual pulses that represent only reinforcer effects. Thus, a reanalysis of existing choice data is necessary to determine whether changes in choice after reinforcers in previous experiments were actually related to reinforcers. In the present paper, we reanalyzed data from choice experiments in which reinforcers served different functions. We compared local choice, mean visit length, and visit-length distributions after reinforcers and after nonreinforced responses. Our reanalysis demonstrated the utility of McLean et al.'s preference-pulse correction for determining the effects of reinforcers on choice. However, visit analyses revealed that residual pulses may not accurately represent reinforcer effects, and reinforcer effects were clearer in visit analyses than in local-choice analyses. The best way to determine the effects of reinforcers on choice may be to conduct visit analyses in addition to local-choice analyses.

Categories: Academic Journals

Failure to find a distance effect in pigeon choice

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 01:02

Primates take longer to choose between alternatives with smaller differences in value. This effect—a particular instance of the distance effect in symbolic comparisons—has not been replicated in birds. Instead, birds appear to respond independently to each alternative, such that the latency to choose depends primarily on the alternative of highest value. Three experiments tested for the distance effect in pigeons under conditions not previously considered. Experiment 1 presented pigeons with forced- and binary free-choice trials, where each alternative was one of three possible delays to reinforcement (4, 8, and 16 s). Pigeons were exposed to the choice stimuli for different amounts of time and with different sample response requirements prior to the choice response. Experiment 2 added a fourth (0-s delay) alternative. Experiment 3 substituted the 16-s delay with a second 4-s delay. In all experiments, pigeons systematically chose the shortest delay to reinforcement. Latency to choose the 4-s delay did not vary when choosing against the 8-s or 16-s delay, regardless of whether choice stimuli were exposed for the duration of nine pecks (Experiment 1), or whether a 0-s delay alternative was sometimes present (Experiment 2). Latency to choose the preferred of two identical alternatives (4-s vs. 4-s) was shorter than the latency to choose between different alternatives (4-s vs. 8-s; Experiment 3); this is the opposite of a distance effect. These results show no evidence of a distance effect in pigeon choice, consistent with the hypothesis that pigeons respond independently to each choice alternative.

Categories: Academic Journals

Choice among two and three alternatives

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 01:37

Although choice between two alternatives has been widely researched, fewer studies have examined choice across multiple (more than two) alternatives. Past models of choice behavior predict that the number of alternatives should not affect relative response allocation, but more recent research has found violations of this principle. Five pigeons were presented with three concurrently scheduled alternatives. Relative reinforcement rates across these alternatives were assigned 9:3:1. In some conditions three keys were available; in others, only two keys were available. The number of available alternatives did not affect relative response rates for pairs of alternatives; there were no significant differences in behavior between the two and three key conditions. For two birds in the three-alternative conditions and three birds in the two-alternative conditions, preference was more extreme for the pair of alternatives with the lower overall pairwise reinforcer rate (3:1) than the pair with higher overall reinforcer rate (9:3). However, when responding during the changeover was removed three birds showed the opposite pattern in the three-alternative conditions; preference was more extreme for the pair of alternatives with the higher overall reinforcer rate. These findings differ from past research and do not support established theories of choice behavior.

Categories: Academic Journals

Selection by consequences, behavioral evolution, and the price equation

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 01:37

Price’s equation describes evolution across time in simple mathematical terms. Although it is not a theory, but a derived identity, it is useful as an analytical tool. It affords lucid descriptions of genetic evolution, cultural evolution, and behavioral evolution (often called “selection by consequences”) at different levels (e.g., individual vs. group) and at different time scales (local and extended). The importance of the Price equation for behavior analysis lies in its ability to precisely restate selection by consequences, thereby restating, or even replacing, the law of effect. Beyond this, the equation may be useful whenever one regards ontogenetic behavioral change as evolutionary change, because it describes evolutionary change in abstract, general terms. As an analytical tool, the behavioral Price equation is an excellent aid in understanding how behavior changes within organisms’ lifetimes. For example, it illuminates evolution of response rate, analyses of choice in concurrent schedules, negative contingencies, and dilemmas of self-control.

Categories: Academic Journals

The discounting model selector: Statistical software for delay discounting applications

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 05:05

Original, open-source computer software was developed and validated against established delay discounting methods in the literature. The software executed approximate Bayesian model selection methods from user-supplied temporal discounting data and computed the effective delay 50 (ED50) from the best performing model. Software was custom-designed to enable behavior analysts to conveniently apply recent statistical methods to temporal discounting data with the aid of a graphical user interface (GUI). The results of independent validation of the approximate Bayesian model selection methods indicated that the program provided results identical to that of the original source paper and its methods. Monte Carlo simulation (n = 50,000) confirmed that true model was selected most often in each setting. Simulation code and data for this study were posted to an online repository for use by other researchers. The model selection approach was applied to three existing delay discounting data sets from the literature in addition to the data from the source paper. Comparisons of model selected ED50 were consistent with traditional indices of discounting. Conceptual issues related to the development and use of computer software by behavior analysts and the opportunities afforded by free and open-sourced software are discussed and a review of possible expansions of this software are provided.

Categories: Academic Journals

The effects of 100 dB 1-kHz and 22-kHz tones as punishers on lever pressing in rats

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 06:38

Aversive control is an important yet understudied process of learning. One reason aversive control may be relatively understudied is ethical concerns about painful stimuli (e.g., electric shock). High decibel broad-band noise and 22-kHz vocalizations both demonstrably affect rodent behavior while not necessarily being painful. The goal of this study was to determine if 100-dB 22-kHz-pure tones were differentially more effective in reducing operant response rates in rats. We examined whether 22-kHz pure tones would function as aversive stimuli, specifically as positive punishers. The effects of response-dependent as well as continuously presented 22-kHz and 1-kHz tones on rate of response maintained by variable interval 30-s food deliveries were assessed across several conditions. We found that response rates were lower when tones were presented response dependently than when tones were presented continuously throughout a session. We also found that the lower response rates obtained with response-dependent 22-kHz tones were not significantly different from response rates obtained with response-dependent 1-kHz tones. The primary conclusion of this experiment is that both 1-kHz and 22-kHz tones functioned as punishers, but that the 22-kHz tones were not differentially more effective in reducing response rate.

Categories: Academic Journals

Noncontingent reinforcement competes with response performance

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 06:33

Noncontingent reinforcement is a commonly used procedure to decrease levels of problem behavior. Goals of this intervention are to decrease motivation, responding, and the functional relation between behavior and consequences, but it could also possibly compete with performance of alternative desirable responses. In the current study, we assessed the effects of noncontingent reinforcement arranged from 0% to 100% of sessions on performance of alternative responding across two experiments. Experiment 1 assessed manding (i.e., requests) maintained by attention and tangibles with a child with developmental disabilities and Experiment 2 assessed keypecking maintained by food with six pigeons. We extended previous research by (a) showing that noncontingent reinforcement competes with both the acquisition and maintenance (performance) of an alternative response, (b) extending the generality of the findings across nonhuman and human participants, and (c) eliminating influence of sequence effects through random manipulations of noncontingent value in pigeons. Overall, greater amounts of noncontingent reinforcement competed with both acquisition and maintenance of alternative responding.

Categories: Academic Journals