Relative reward effects on operant behavior: Incentive contrast, induction and variety effects

Behav Processes. 2015 Jul:116:87-99. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2015.05.003. Epub 2015 May 12.


Comparing different rewards automatically produces dynamic relative outcome effects on behavior. Each new outcome exposure is to an updated version evaluated relative to alternatives. Relative reward effects include incentive contrast, positive induction and variety effects. The present study utilized a novel behavioral design to examine relative reward effects on a chain of operant behavior using auditory cues. Incentive contrast is the most often examined effect and focuses on increases or decreases in behavioral performance after value upshifts (positive) or downshifts (negative) relative to another outcome. We examined the impact of comparing two reward outcomes in a repeated measures design with three sessions: a single outcome and a mixed outcome and a final single outcome session. Relative reward effects should be apparent when comparing trials for the identical outcome between the single and mixed session types. An auditory cue triggered a series of operant responses (nosepoke-leverpress-food retrieval), and we measured possible contrast effects for different reward magnitude combinations. We found positive contrast for trials with the greatest magnitude differential but positive induction or variety effects in other combinations. This behavioral task could be useful for analyzing environmental or neurobiological factors involved in reward comparisons, decision-making and choice during instrumental, goal-directed action.

Keywords: Communication; Decision-making; Emotion; Instrumental action; Motivation; Positive and negative contrast; Reward.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Decision Making
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reward*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology