Suboptimal choice in a percentage-reinforcement procedure: effects of signal condition and terminal-link length

J Exp Anal Behav. 1990 Mar;53(2):219-34. doi: 10.1901/jeab.1990.53-219.


Pigeons' choice between reliable (100%) and unreliable (50%) reinforcement was studied using a concurrent-chains procedure. Initial links were fixed-ratio 1 schedules, and terminal links were equal fixed-time schedules. The duration of the terminal links was varied across conditions. The terminal link on the reliable side always ended in food; the terminal link on the unreliable side ended with food 50% of the time and otherwise with blackout. Different stimuli present during the 50% terminal links signaled food or blackout outcomes under signaled conditions but were uncorrelated with outcomes under unsignaled conditions. In signaled conditions, most pigeons displayed a nearly exclusive preference for the 100% alternative when terminal links were short (5 or 10 s), but with terminal links of 30 s or longer, preference for the 100% alternative was sharply reduced (often to below .5). In unsignaled conditions, most pigeons showed extreme preference for the 100% alternative with either short (5 s) or longer (30 s) terminal links. Thus, pigeons' choice between reliable and unreliable reinforcement is influenced by both the signal conditions on the unreliable alternative and the duration of the terminal-link delay. With a long delay and signaled outcomes, many pigeons display a suboptimal tendency to choose the unreliable side.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning*
  • Attention*
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Color Perception
  • Columbidae
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Cues
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Motivation*
  • Orientation
  • Probability Learning
  • Reinforcement Schedule