Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Discrimination of Fixed-Interval Schedules by Humans

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Discrimination of Fixed-Interval Schedules by Humans

Article excerpt

Schedules of reinforcement not only maintain responses but also provide discriminative stimuli for subsequent responses (Catania, 1970; Catania & Reynolds, 1968; Lattal, 1981). For example, an animal is exposed to one of two different reinforcement schedules without stimuli correlating with the schedule in effect, in which the schedule is used as a sample stimulus. When the schedule requirement is met, the subject is required to select one of two comparison stimuli. The choice is reinforced depending on the preceding schedule. Using this conditional discrimination procedure, previous experiments have found that different species discriminated different schedules (e.g., Dymond & Barnes, 1994, 1995; Lattal, 1975; Lionello-DeNolf & Urcuioli, 2003; Nussear & Lattal, 1983; Okouchi & Kim, 2004; Rilling & McDiarmid, 1965; Tanno, Silberberg, & Sakagami, 2009). Discriminative properties of reinforcement schedules have received attention in relation to at least three research interests: verbal--nonverbal relations (da Silva & Lattal, 2010; Lattal & Doepke, 2001; Matsumoto & Okouchi, 2001; Okouchi & Kim, 2004), stimulus equivalence (Shimizu, 2006), and the molecular--molar controversy (Tanno et al., 2009).

Contingencies of the conditional discrimination procedure using schedules as sample stimuli may be observed outside the laboratory when people report their own behavior. Suppose that a man is struggling to open the door of a hotel room (a sample schedule link). He tries every possible means and finally opens it (the schedule requirement was met). Then he tells his wife how to open the door (choosing a comparison stimulus). If his report corresponds with the actual contingency, it may be appreciated (reinforced) by his wife, who now is able to open the door easily.

The present experiments examined whether humans could discriminate fixed-interval (FI) schedules from fixed-ratio (FR) and differential-reinforcement-of-low-rate (DRL) schedules. In an FI schedule, a constant time (FI value) must elapse before a response is reinforced, whereas a constant number of responses (FR value) is required to produce a reinforcer in an FR schedule. When a DRL schedule is in effect, any interresponse time (IRT) or postreinforcement pause followed by a response that is longer than the DRL value produces a reinforcer (cf. Catania, 1991). Mazur (2006, pp. 147-150) described a bus arriving at a stop every 20 minutes and the piece-work method used to pay factory workers as daily examples of FI and FR schedules, respectively. Boiling rice may be an example of a DRL schedule, because uncovering the pan results in delicious rice only if a specified time period elapses without uncovering.

Previous studies have found that pigeons discriminated between DRL and differential-reinforcement-of-other-behavior (DRO) schedules (Lattal, 1975), between tandem variable-interval (VI) FI and tandem VI DRO schedules (Nussear & Lattal, 1983), and between FR and DRL schedules (Lionello-DeNolf & Urcuioli, 2003); rats discriminated between tandem random-interval (RI) differential-reinforcement-of-high-rate (DRH) and tandem RI DRL schedules, between random-ratio (RR) and tandem RI DRL schedules, and between RR and RI schedules (Tanno et al., 2009); and humans discriminated between recycling conjunctive DRO fixed-time (FT) and recycling conjunctive FT FR (Dymond & Barnes, 1994, 1995), and between tandem FT FR and DRL schedules (Okouchi & Kim, 2004). However, there is no published work that examined whether humans could discriminate simple FI schedules from others.

If the schedule and species used are FI and humans, respectively, the investigation of schedule discrimination cannot avoid a discussion of human schedule insensitivity: one of the substantial issues of the experimental analysis of behavior. Behavior is described as being sensitive when a stable pattern or rate of behavior changes systematically following a contingency change, whereas behavior that fails to change with the contingency change is described as being insensitive (Madden, Chase, & Joyce, 1998). …

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