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Resistance to change and the law of effect

By David N. Harper and Anthony P. McLean


Three experiments using multiple schedules of reinforcement explored the implications of resistance-to-change findings for the response-reinforcer relation described by the law of effect, using both steady-state responding and responding recorded in the first few sessions of conditions. In Experiment 1, when response-independent reinforcement was increased during a third component, response rate in Components 1 and 2 decreased. This response-rate reduction was proportionately greater in a component in which reinforcer magnitude was small (2-s access to wheat) than in the component in which it was large (6-s access to wheat). However, when reinforcer rates in the two components were varied together in Experiments 2 and 3, response-rate change was the same regardless of the magnitude of reinforcers used in the two components, so that sensitivity of response rates to reinforcer rates (Experiment 2) and of response-rate ratios to reinforcer-rate ratios (Experiment 3) was unaffected by the magnitude of the reinforcers. Therefore, the principles determining resistance to change, described by behavioral momentum theory, seem not to apply when the source of behavior change is the variation of reinforcement contingencies that maintain the behavior. The use of extinction as a manipulation to study resistance to change is questioned

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