Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Shaping and Instructing Performance Descriptions during Computer-Interactive Problem Solving

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Shaping and Instructing Performance Descriptions during Computer-Interactive Problem Solving

Article excerpt

Twelve graduate and undergraduate students participated in one of two experimental preparations. During baseline, subjects in both groups performed computer-interactive math problems during 2-min cycles of multiple random-time (RT) random-ratio (RR) schedules of monetary reinforcement. During the RT component, response-independent reinforcement was delivered in the context of a blue screen, and during the RR component, contingent reinforcement was delivered on a white screen. However, during every 1-min blue-screen component, response rates in excess of 15/min terminated all random-time reinforcement for the duration of that min. Between cycles of the multiple RT RR schedule, students responded to computer-posted descriptions of the most efficient method of accessing monetary reinforcement. For Group 1, selections of performance descriptions were differentially reinforced (shaped) in opposition to scheduled contingencies, and subsequently shaped in conjunction with contingencies. Group 2 subjects were instru cted in opposition to contingencies and later instructed in conjunction with scheduled contingencies. Thus, subjects in both groups could earn money in two ways: (1) Points/money was delivered throughout each 2-min cycle of the multiple RT RR schedule and (2) between cycles, subjects could obtain additional money by responding to computer-posted performance descriptions. In this way, performance descriptions between cycles of problem solving could be placed in opposition to or in conjunction with scheduled reinforcement. Results suggest that during computer-interactive responding, shaping performance descriptions was a more powerful procedure for influencing rates of problem solving. Implications regarding the differential effects of response-independent and scheduled reinforcement, shaping and instructing verbal performance descriptions are discussed.

In natural and computer-interactive environments human "interpretations" of the consequences of their behavior appear rather malleable, and under some conditions, human performances may be more likely to be driven by fallacious rules than by the actual consequences of their behavior (Harzem, Lowe, & Bagshaw, 1978; Hayes, Brownstein, Haas, & Greenway, 1986; Ninness & Ninness, 1998). Unlike nonverbal organisms, human performances often appear insensitive to scheduled consequences (e.g., Lowe & Horne, 1996; Rosenfarb, Newland, Brannon, & Howey, 1992; Weiner, 1970) and the term, failure to demonstrate interspecies replication, has been posited as a descriptor for the discontinuity of effects of scheduled consequences across species (Madden, Chase, & Joyce, 1998). Such discontinuity has been attributed to the human acquisition of verbal repertoires (Bentall, Lowe, & Beasty, 1985) and to the development of self-generated rules that may conflict with the control otherwise exerted by direct-acting contingencies (Flo ra, Pavlik, & Pittenger, 1990). On balance, research by Baxter and Schlinger (1990) provides evidence for interspecies replication within particular experimental arrangements. Consistent with the behavior of a wide range of species, children in their study demonstrated comparatively higher rates of responding during random-ratio (RR) and lower performance rates during random-interval (RI) schedules.

In the wake of contradictory findings on interspecies replication (e.g., Matthews, Catania, & Shimoff, 1985; Shimoff, Catania, & Matthews, 1981), Catania, Matthews, and Shimoff (1989) suggested that the shaping of rules, rather than specific overt behaviors, may be one of the variables that act to override the effects of direct-acting contingencies. However, Catania et al. note that "we can only be certain that behavior is controlled by rules when rules and contingencies are pitted against each other" (p. 121). As an illustration, Catania et al. pitted rules against contingencies by having subjects press buttons and respond to questions in writing regarding the most efficient way to earn points (money) while performing. …

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