Variable-ratio schedules as variable-interval schedules with linear feedback loops

J Exp Anal Behav. 1986 Nov;46(3):315-29. doi: 10.1901/jeab.1986.46-315.


The mathematical theory of linear systems has been used successfully to describe responding on variable-interval (VI) schedules. In the simplest extension of the theory to the variable-ratio (VR) case, VR schedules are treated as if they were VI schedules with linear feedback loops. The assumption entailed by this approach, namely, that VR and VI-plus-linear-feedback schedules are equivalent, was tested by comparing responding on the two types of schedule. Four human subjects' lever pressing produced monetary reinforcers on five VR schedules, and on five VI schedules with linear feedback loops that reproduced the feedback properties of the VR schedules. Pressing was initiated by instructions in 2 subjects, and was shaped by successive approximation in the other 2. The different methods of response initiation did not have differential effects on behavior. For each of the 4 subjects, the VR and the comparable VI-plus-linear-feedback schedules generated similar average response rates and similar response patterns. The subjects' behavior on both types of schedule was similar to that of avian and rodent species on VR schedules. These results indicate that the assumption entailed by the VI-plus-linear-feedback approach to the VR case is valid and, consequently, that the approach is worth pursuing. The results also confute interresponse-time theories of schedule performance, which require interval and ratio contingencies to produce different response rates.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Psychological Tests*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology