Effects of Time between Trials on Rats' and Pigeons' Choices with Probabilistic Delayed Reinforcers

  • Mazur J
  • Biondi D
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Abstract

Parallel experiments with rats and pigeons examined reasons for previous findings that in choices with probabilistic delayed reinforcers, rats' choices were affected by the time between trials whereas pigeons' choices were not. In both experiments, the animals chose between a standard alternative and an adjusting alternative. A choice of the standard alternative led to a short delay (1 s or 3 s), and then food might or might not be delivered. If food was not delivered, there was an "interlink interval," and then the animal was forced to continue to select the standard alternative until food was delivered. A choice of the adjusting alternative always led to food after a delay that was systematically increased and decreased over trials to estimate an indifference point--a delay at which the two alternatives were chosen about equally often. Under these conditions, the indifference points for both rats and pigeons increased as the interlink interval increased from 0 s to 20 s, indicating decreased preference for the probabilistic reinforcer with longer time between trials. The indifference points from both rats and pigeons were well described by the hyperbolic-decay model. In the last phase of each experiment, the animals were not forced to continue selecting the standard alternative if food was not delivered. Under these conditions, rats' choices were affected by the time between trials whereas pigeons' choices were not, replicating results of previous studies. The differences between the behavior of rats and pigeons appears to be the result of procedural details, not a fundamental difference in how these two species make choices with probabilistic delayed reinforcers.

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Authors

  • James E Mazur

  • Dawn R Biondi

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