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Estimation of indifference points with an adjusting-delay procedure.

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In a series of conditions, pigeons chose between 1.5 s and 3 s of access to grain, each preceded by some delay. The delay that preceded the small reinforcer was constant throughout a condition. The delay that preceded the large reinforcer was increased or decreased a number of times each session in order to estimate an "indifference point," a delay at which the subject chose each alternative about equally often. The experiment was designed to determine whether variations in any of four features of this adjusting-delay procedure would systematically alter the estimated indifference points. The four features were the total trial duration, the number of center-key responses necessary to begin a trial, the number of choice trials that preceded each change in the adjusting delay, and step size--the size of each increment and decrement in the delay. Manipulation of the first three features had no systematic effects on the indifference points. As step size was increased from 0.5 s to 6 s, within-session variability of the adjusting delay steadily increased, and the 6-s step size produced larger indifference-point estimates for some subjects. The results suggest that, within certain limits, these procedural features can be altered without affecting the indifference-point estimates, but that the use of a large step size can distort the estimates. Some theoretical implications of the relative constancy of indifference points across these procedural variations are discussed.

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