Posted with permission from the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.


Two experiments examined the effects of session duration on responding during simple variable-interval schedules. In Experiment 1, rats were exposed to a series of simple variable-interval schedules differing in both session duration (10 min or 30 min) and scheduled reinforcement rate (7.5 s,15 s, 30 s, and 480 s). The functions relating response rate to reinforcement rate were predominantly monotonic for the short (10-min) sessions but were predominantly bitonic for the long (30-min) sessions, when data from the entire session were considered. Examination of responding within sessions suggested that differences in the whole-session data were produced by a combination of prospective processes (i.e., processes based on events scheduled to occur later in the session) and retrospective processes (i.e., processes based on events that had already occurred in the session). In Experiment 2, rats were exposed to a modified discrimination procedure in which pellet flavor (standard or banana) predicted session duration (10 min or 30 min). All rats came to respond faster during the short (10-min) sessions than during the first 10 min of the long sessions. As in Experiment 1, the results seemed to reflect the simultaneous operation of both prospective and retrospective processes. The results shed light on the recent controversy over the form of the variable-interval response function by identifying one variable (session duration) and two types of processes (prospective and retrospective) that influence responding on these schedules.



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