, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 241-248

Choice behavior in transition: Development of preference in a free-operant procedure

Abstract

Twenty acquisition curves were obtained from each of 8 pigeons in a free-operant choice procedure. Every condition began with a phase in which two response keys had equal probabilities of reinforcement, and, as a result, subjects’ responses were divided fairly evenly between the two keys. This was followed by a phase in which one key had a higher probability of reinforcement than the other, and the development of preference was observed. In all but a few cases, response proportions increased for the key with the higher probability of reinforcement. In most conditions, the two probabilities differed by .06, but the actual probabilities varied (from .16 and .10 in one condition to .07 and .01 in another). Development of preference for the key with the higher probability of reinforcement was slower when the ratio of the two reinforcement probabilities was small (.16/.10) than when it was large (.07/.01). This finding is inconsistent with the predictions of several different quantitative models of acquisition, including the kinetic model (Myerson & Miezin, 1980) and the ratio-invariance model (Horner & Staddon, 1987). However, the finding is consistent with a hypothesis based on Weber’s law, which states that the two alternatives are more discriminable when the ratio of their reinforcement probabilities is larger, and, as a result, the acquisition of preference is faster.