Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


44th Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2018

Event Details

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Symposium #262
Divided Control Over Behavior
Sunday, May 27, 2018
12:00 PM–12:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, San Diego Ballroom C
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Sarah Cowie (The University of Auckland)

Behavior is controlled by antecedent stimuli and by contingent consequences. In the natural world, these antecedent stimuli and consequences often consist of multiple elements (e.g., color and line orientation) or dimensions (e.g., reinforcer magnitude and frequency). In such environments, behavior may come under the control of more than one element and/or dimension. Understanding what affects such divided control is critical for identifying the stimuli and consequences that maintain behavior, as well as for establishing control over behavior (as in behavior modification procedures). The research presented in this symposium explores divided control over behavior by stimuli and outcomes. Presentations will cover topics such as how informative stimuli control behavior, how stimuli that signal redundant or conflicting information compete for stimulus control, and the role of reinforcer frequency in divided control. The findings presented in this symposium are likely to be relevant to both experimental and applied researchers interested in how stimuli and outcomes can jointly control behavior in complex environments.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): cue conflict, overshadowing, stimulus control, suboptimal choice
Frequency and Value in a Pigeon Suboptimal Choice Paradigm
JEFFREY PISKLAK (University of Alberta), Margaret A. McDevitt (McDaniel College), Roger Dunn (San Diego State University), Marcia Spetch (University of Alberta)
Abstract: Pigeons often make suboptimal choices that provide less frequent food but higher-value conditionally reinforcing signals. This has led some researchers to propose that pigeons’ choices are sensitive to reinforcer value but not reinforcer frequency. We tested the hypothesis that pigeons’ choices are controlled by not only the value of conditionally reinforcing signals (i.e., their correlation with food) but also by the relative frequency of reinforcement. Pigeons chose between two options on a concurrent-chains task with a single response requirement in the initial link. The suboptimal option had a 20% chance of ending with food whereas the optimal option provided an 80% chance of food. During a “SigBoth” condition, terminal-link stimuli on both options signalled whether food would occur. During a “Sig/Unsig” condition, only the terminal-link stimuli on the suboptimal option provided unambiguous signals for the food and no food outcomes. Both the initial-link choices and probe-trial response rates on terminal link-stimuli revealed a clear preference for the optimal alternative in the Sig/Both condition but preference shifted toward suboptimality in the “Sig/Unsig” condition. These findings strongly imply that pigeon suboptimal choice is not singularly driven by signal value, as has been suggested by other researchers, but also by reinforcer frequency.

Do Relative Reinforcer Rates Determine Divided Control by Conflicting Stimuli?

STEPHANIE GOMES-NG (The University of Auckland), Douglas Elliffe (The University of Auckland), Sarah Cowie (The University of Auckland)

When behavior is controlled by multiple stimuli, stimuli associated with relatively higher reinforcer rates exert greater control over behavior. It is presently unclear whether this is also the case when stimuli signal conflicting contingencies. We investigated whether relative reinforcer rates determine divided stimulus control when stimuli signaled conflicting information about the location of the next reinforcer. Pigeons chose a left or right key conditional on the presentation of a sample stimulus. We varied the reinforcer rate associated with each stimulus in separate conditions. To investigate divided stimulus control, two stimuli were presented simultaneously in unreinforced test trials (Experiment 1), or the sample stimulus itself consisted of two simultaneously presented stimuli (Experiment 2). In Experiment 2, one stimulus (chosen randomly) signaled the next reinforcer location. When simultaneously presented stimuli signaled the same reinforcer location, subjects chose this location. When the stimuli signaled different locations, response ratios to the sample stimuli and to the choice keys approximately matched reinforcer ratios. That is, stimuli associated with higher reinforcer rates exerted greater control. Thus, divided control by conflicting stimuli also depends on relative reinforcer rates.


Acquisition and Performance Processes of Divided Control Over Spatial Behavior in Pigeons

AARON P. BLAISDELL (UCLA Psychology & Brain Research Institute)

Cue conflict has a long history in the study of learning. Paradigms using cue-conflict procedures, such as overshadowing and blocking, have played an important role in the development and assessment of diverse theories of learning. We report a series of experiments investigating overshadowing of spatial cues to understand the role associative processes play in acquisition and expression of cued spatial behavior. Pigeons were reinforced with grain for pecking a visual target presented on a touchscreen. The location of the target could be signaled by one or more visual cues (i.e., landmarks) located elsewhere on the screen. Using this procedure, we investigated the theoretical basis of spatial learning in overshadowing. Our results indicate that, like conventional overshadowing, spatial overshadowing is governed by an associative process and likely reflects a learning deficit. Next, we report a series of experiments demonstrating similar overshadowing-like cue conflict effects at the time of test, which cannot be explained by a learning deficit but instead by competition between signals based on their relative salience. Both lines of research bear on the central issue of learning and performance processes that govern stimulus control of behavior.




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