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The Behavior Analyst

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 1–12 | Cite as

Making Sense of Sensitivity in the Human Operant Literature

  • Gregory J. Madden
  • Philip N. Chase
  • James H. Joyce
Article

Abstract

Human operant behavior is often said to be controlled by different variables or governed by different processes than nonhuman operant behavior. Support for this claim within the operant literature comes from data suggesting that human behavior is often insensitive to schedules of reinforcement to which nonhuman behavior has been sensitive. The data that evoke the use of the terms sensitivity and insensitivity, however, result from both between-species and within-subject comparisons. We argue that because sensitivity is synonymous with experimental control, conclusions about sensitivity are best demonstrated through within-subject comparisons. Further, we argue that even when sensitivity is assessed using within-subject comparisons of performance on different schedules of reinforcement, procedural differences between studies of different species may affect schedule performance in important ways. We extend this argument to age differences as well. We conclude that differences across populations are an occasion for more precise experimental analyses and that it is premature to conclude that human behavior is controlled by different processes than nonhuman behavior.

Key words

humans sensitivity schedules of reinforcement concurrent schedules interspecies continuity 

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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory J. Madden
    • 1
  • Philip N. Chase
    • 2
  • James H. Joyce
    • 2
  1. 1.Human Behavioral Pharmacology LaboratoryUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  2. 2.West Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

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