Biological Determinants of Reinforcement - Vol. 7

By Michael L. Commons; Russell M. Church et al. | Go to book overview

8
How Drugs Affect Cells and Reinforcement Affects Behavior: Formal Analogies

Gene Heyman

CNS Research, Lederle Laboratories


INTRODUCTION

In operant psychology there has been a trend toward quantitative analysis. In the first years of this discipline (e.g., Skinner, 1938), research reports were typically organized around a graphic representation of the experimental results. These graphs, called cumulative recorder tracings, showed a moment-to-moment account of the reinforced response: When the subject, such as a rat, pressed a lever, a pen was stepped along a continuously moving roll of paper. Thus, a train of responses would show up as a smooth line, and the faster the rate of responding, the steeper the slope of the line. Recent operant research papers, however, rarely include cumulative recorder tracings (see Skinner, 1976, for a eulogy). Now it is more likely for such papers to be based on a mathematical model of the experimental conditions. The models are derived from theories, for example, the assumption that subjects in operant experiments maximize some dimension of reinforcement (e.g., Rachlin, 1980), and the goal of the research is to fit the model, and thereby test the theory. In effect, vignettes, in which the subject's behavior was played back just as it occurred, (e.g., Ferster & Skinner, 1957), have been replaced by calculations and goodness-of-fit tests.

The most influential quantitative theory in operant psychology is the matching law. Herrnstein ( 1970) introduced this theory, and he initially demonstrated that it described the relationship between response rate and reinforcement rate in a study in which the subjects were pigeons and the reinforcer was grain. Since this introduction, the matching law has been shown to describe the results for different species, including humans (e.g., Bradshaw, Szabadi, & Bevan, 1978a), and for different procedures, including those that use nonconsummatroy reinforcers, for

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