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Increased reinforcement when timeout from avoidance includes access to a safe place1

By Alan Baron, Richard J. DeWaard and Joel Lipson


Three experiments investigated the reinforcing value of access to a safe place during timeout from an avoidance schedule. Rats were trained on conjoint schedules in which responding both postponed shock on a free-operant avoidance schedule and produced periods of timeout on fixed-ratio schedules. In some conditions, a shelf was inserted into the operant chamber during timeout, enabling subjects to get off the grid floor. The combination of timeout and shelf maintained substantially higher response rates than the baseline avoidance schedule with ratio requirements as high as 90 (Experiment I). Adding the shelf to timeouts in one component of multiple fixed-ratio schedules of timeout resulted in higher response rates in the component where the shelf was included (Experiment II). When timeouts with and without the shelf were arranged on concurrent schedules, the shelf-timeout combination was preferred, even when of shorter duration than timeout alone (Experiment III). In all three experiments, subjects climbed on the shelf, although all shocks were cancelled during timeout periods. The results could not be accounted for solely in terms of the reinforcing properties of changes in shock rates, but required an interpretation that ascribed conditioned reinforcing value to stimuli associated with such changes

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