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Performances on ratio and interval schedules of reinforcement: Data and theory

  • William M. Baum
Publication Date
Mar 01, 1993


Two differences between ratio and interval performance are well known: (a) Higher rates occur on ratio schedules, and (b) ratio schedules are unable to maintain responding at low rates of reinforcement (ratio “strain”). A third phenomenon, a downturn in response rate at the highest rates of reinforcement, is well documented for ratio schedules and is predicted for interval schedules. Pigeons were exposed to multiple variable-ratio variable-interval schedules in which the intervals generated in the variable-ratio component were programmed in the variable-interval component, thereby “yoking” or approximately matching reinforcement in the two components. The full range of ratio performances was studied, from strained to continuous reinforcement. In addition to the expected phenomena, a new phenomenon was observed: an upturn in variable-interval response rate in the midrange of rates of reinforcement that brought response rates on the two schedules to equality before the downturn at the highest rates of reinforcement. When the average response rate was corrected by eliminating pausing after reinforcement, the downturn in response rate vanished, leaving a strictly monotonic performance curve. This apparent functional independence of the postreinforcement pause and the qualitative shift in response implied by the upturn in variable-interval response rate suggest that theoretical accounts will require thinking of behavior as partitioned among at least three categories, and probably four: postreinforcement activity, other unprogrammed activity, ratio-typical operant behavior, and interval-typical operant behavior.

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