The partial-reinforcement extinction effect and the contingent-sampling hypothesis

Psychon Bull Rev. 2013 Dec;20(6):1336-42. doi: 10.3758/s13423-013-0432-1.


The partial-reinforcement extinction effect (PREE) implies that learning under partial reinforcements is more robust than learning under full reinforcements. While the advantages of partial reinforcements have been well-documented in laboratory studies, field research has failed to support this prediction. In the present study, we aimed to clarify this pattern. Experiment 1 showed that partial reinforcements increase the tendency to select the promoted option during extinction; however, this effect is much smaller than the negative effect of partial reinforcements on the tendency to select the promoted option during the training phase. Experiment 2 demonstrated that the overall effect of partial reinforcements varies inversely with the attractiveness of the alternative to the promoted behavior: The overall effect is negative when the alternative is relatively attractive, and positive when the alternative is relatively unattractive. These results can be captured with a contingent-sampling model assuming that people select options that provided the best payoff in similar past experiences. The best fit was obtained under the assumption that similarity is defined by the sequence of the last four outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Extinction, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Reinforcement Schedule*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Young Adult