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Second-order schedules and the problem of conditioned reinforcement

By D. Alan Stubbs


Thirteen pigeons were exposed to a variety of second-order schedules in which responding under a component schedule was reinforced according to a schedule of reinforcement. Under different conditions, completion of each component resulted in either (1) the brief presentation of a stimulus also present during reinforcement (pairing operation), (2) the brief presentation of a stimulus not present during reinforcement (nonpairing operation), or (3) no brief stimulus presentation (tandem). Brief-stimulus presentations engendered a pattern of responding within components similar to that engendered by food. Patterning was observed when fixed-interval and fixed-ratio components were maintained under fixed- and variable-ratio and fixed- and variable-interval schedules. There were no apparent differences in performance under pairing and nonpairing conditions in any study. The properties of the stimuli presented in brief-stimulus operations produced different effects on response patterning. In one study, similar effects on performance were found whether brief-stimulus presentations were response-produced or delivered independently of responding. Response patterning did not occur when the component schedule under which a nonpaired stimulus was produced occurred independently of the food schedule. The results suggest a reevaluation of the role of conditioned reinforcement in second-order schedule performance. The similarity of behavior under pairing and nonpairing operations is consistent with two hypotheses: (1) the major effect is due to the discriminative properties of the brief stimulus; (2) the scheduling operation under which the paired or nonpaired stimulus is presented can establish it as a reinforcer

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