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Human instrumental performance in ratio and interval contingencies: a challenge for associative theory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Omar Pérez-Riveros, Michael R F Aitken, Peter Zhukovsky, Fabián A Soto, Gonzalo P Urcelay, Anthony Dickinson

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-33
Number of pages33
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
StatePublished - 29 Nov 2016


King's Authors


Associative learning theories regard the probability of reinforcement as the critical factor determining responding. However, the role of this factor in instrumental conditioning is not completely clear. In fact, a wealth of evidence from instrumental free-operant experiments has shown that participants respond at a higher rate on variable ratio than on variable interval schedules even though the reinforcement probability on the interval schedule is the same as or greater than that on the ratio schedule. This difference has been attributed to the differential reinforcement of long inter-response times (IRT) by interval schedules, which acts to slow responding. In the present study, we used a novel experimental design to investigate human responding under random ratio (RR) and regulated probability interval (RPI) schedules, a type of interval schedule that sets a reinforcement probability independently of the IRT duration. We trained participants separately on each type of schedule before a final choice test in which they distributed responding between two schedules similar to those experienced during training. Although response rates on the various schedules did not differ reliably during training, the participants responded at a lower rate on the RPI schedule than on the matched RR schedule during the choice test. This preference cannot be attributed to a higher probability of reinforcement for long IRTs and questions the idea that similar associative processes underlie instrumental and classical conditioning.

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