The effect of contingency upon the appetitive conditioning of free-operant behavior

J Exp Anal Behav. 1980 Nov;34(3):297-304. doi: 10.1901/jeab.1980.34-297.


The problem of maintaining independence between response rates and reinforcement probabilities when determining the effect of varying the response-reinforcement contingency upon free-operant behavior was solved by programming local reinforcement probabilities for response and no response on a second-by-second basis. Fifty-seven rats were trained to lever-press on schedules of water reinforcement involving different values of contingency. All rats were first trained on a high positive contingency and then shifted to less positive, zero, or negative contingencies. Under these conditions, rate of lever-pressing declined appropriately when the contingency between response and reinforcement decreased or was made negative. The decline in rate produced by a zero contingency cannot be attributed to extinction, since the probability of reinforcement given the occurrence of a response was the same as for the positive contingency from which the shift to zero was made. That is, there was no change in the opportunity for response-reinforcement contiguity. It was concluded that the technique of programming local reinforcement probabilities offers promise for more critical examinations of the effects of contingency upon free-operant behavior.