, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 1-10

Past experience, recency, and spontaneous recovery in choice behavior


Pigeons’ responses on two keys were recorded before and after the percentage of reinforcers delivered by each key was changed. In each condition of Experiment 1, the reinforcement percentage for one key was 50% for several sessions, then either 70% or 90% for one, two, or three sessions, and then 50% for another few sessions. At the start of the second and third sessions after a change in reinforcement percentages, choice percentages often exhibited spontaneous recovery—a reversion to the response percentages of earlier sessions. The spontaneous recovery consisted of a shift toward a more extreme response percentage in some cases and toward a less extreme response percentage in other cases, depending on what reinforcement percentages were previously in effect. In Experiment 2, some conditions included a 3-day rest period before a change in reinforcement percentages, and other conditions included no such rest days. Slightly less spontaneous recovery was observed in conditions with the rest periods, suggesting that the influence of prior sessions diminished with the passage of time. The results are consistent with the view that choice behavior at the start of a new session is based on a weighted average of the events of the past several sessions.

This research was supported by Grant MH 38357 from the National Institute of Mental Health. The author thanks Jeffrey Colafrancesco, Peter Kelly, and Margaret Nygren for their help in different phases of the research.