Choice as a function of local versus molar reinforcement contingencies

J Exp Anal Behav. 1991 Nov;56(3):455-73. doi: 10.1901/jeab.1991.56-455.


Rats were trained on a discrete-trial probability learning task. In Experiment 1, the molar reinforcement probabilities for the two response alternatives were equal, and the local contingencies of reinforcement differentially reinforced a win-stay, lose-shift response pattern. The win-stay portion was learned substantially more easily and appeared from the outset of training, suggesting that its occurrence did not depend upon discrimination of the local contingencies but rather only upon simple strengthening effects of individual reinforcements. Control by both types of local contingencies decreased with increases in the intertrial interval, although some control remained with intertrial intervals as long as 30 s. In Experiment 2, the local contingencies always favored win-shift and lose-shift response patterns but were asymmetrical for the two responses, causing the molar reinforcement rates for the two responses to differ. Some learning of the alternation pattern occurred with short intertrial intervals, although win-stay behavior occurred for some subjects. The local reinforcement contingencies were discriminated poorly with longer intertrial intervals. In the absence of control by the local contingencies, choice proportion was determined by the molar contingencies, as indicated by high exponent values for the generalized matching law with long intertrial intervals, and lower values with short intertrial intervals. The results show that when molar contingencies of reinforcement and local contingencies are in opposition, both may have independent roles. Control by molar contingencies cannot generally be explained by local contingencies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior*
  • Attention*
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Probability Learning*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Reinforcement Schedule*