Animals will perform an operant response to obtain food when abundant free food is available. These data have implications for current learning theories, especially in terms of the motivational variables associated with such behavior. The present paper reviews the literature and provides an analysis that suggests that responding for food in the presence of free food is importantly controlled by stimulus change attendant upon response-dependent food presentation. This apparent stimulus-reinforcer effect on behavior is compared to that observed in other areas of animal learning research that include preference between schedules of response-dependent and response-independent reinforcement, preference between schedules of signaled and unsignaled reinforcement, autoshaping and automaintenance, and self-reinforcement in animals.
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Osborne, S.R. The free food (contrafreeloading) phenomenon: A review and analysis. Animal Learning & Behavior 5, 221–235 (1977). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03209232