An evaluation of methods for studying the effects of conditioned reinforcement on human choice

J Exp Anal Behav. 2023 May;119(3):476-487. doi: 10.1002/jeab.833. Epub 2023 Feb 1.


Shahan et al. (2006) found that the relative rate of pigeons' pecking on two observing responses (i.e., responses that only produced an S+ or stimulus correlated with primary reinforcement) was well described by the relative rate of S+ delivery. Researchers have not evaluated the effects of S+ delivery rate in a concurrent observing response procedure with human subjects, so the necessary procedural modifications for studying the effects of conditioned reinforcement on human choice remain unclear. The purpose of the current study was to conduct an additive component analysis of modifications to the procedures of Shahan et al. (2006). We evaluated the additive effects of introducing response cost, a changeover response, and ordinal discriminative stimuli on correspondence with the results of Shahan et al. and the quality of fits of the generalized matching equation. When our procedures were most similar to those of Shahan et al., we observed low rates of observing and indifference between the two observing responses. For the group of subjects with whom all three additive components were included, we obtained the highest level of sensitivity to relative rate of S+ delivery, but the slope and R2 of our fits of the generalized matching equation were still much lower than those obtained by Shahan et al. Potential reasons for these discrepancies, methods of resolving them, and implications for future research are discussed.

Keywords: choice; conditioned reinforcement; human operant; matching law; observing response procedure.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior
  • Columbidae
  • Conditioning, Operant*
  • Humans
  • Reinforcement Schedule
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*